This sugarplum of a movie is held together with good intentions and paperclips, but its appealing cast and seasonal sweetness make it — if not the perfect holiday treat, a pleasantly enjoyable one, especially welcome because there are so few Christmas stories about African-American families.
A little girl tells a department store Santa that her single mother needs a compliment, and that leads to a number of romantic and professional complications. The Santa is Benjamin (the always-welcome Morris Chestnut), a would-be songwriter who thinks if he can just get big star J-Jizzy (Charlie Murphy, completely over the top) to perform his song, his career will be made. The compliment leads to a romance with the little girl’s mother, Nancy (the always-appealing Gabrielle Union). The complication comes when it turns out that Nancy’s ex-husband is J-Jizzy. And the little girl’s brother thinks that Benjamin is the reason his parents are not getting back together. And J-Jizzy needs a new song right away for his Christmas album, which in movie magic world is going to be recorded and released immediately.
The neglectful rap star father is neither as funny or as heart-warming as intended. The kids cannot act. Queen Latifah (who produced) is wasted as storyteller/angel(?), and Terrance Howard(!) is not just wasted but downright tortured as her silent sidekick. But Chestnut and Union give the thin material more than it deserves and when they are onscreen they make it work. Two of the most engaging and talented actors in Hollywood, both have been on the brink of an A-list break-through for far too long. They give full, thoughtful, and utterly delightful performances, keeping the film out of sitcom stickiness by making us care about their characters and want them to care about each other.
Parents should know that this movie concerns an acrimonious divorced couple and a neglectful father and the effect this has on their children. A child hopes his divorced parents will get back together and is upset when his mother gets a new boyfriend. There is some suggestive humor (a “ho” joke) and characters wear scanty costumes. A child is in peril. Characters drink wine. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of diverse characters, though there is some stereotyping of the rapper.
Families who see this movie should talk about what their idea of a “perfect holiday” is. Why did the children have different reactions to Benjamin? Why was it hard for Benjamin to tell Nancy the truth?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Christmas classics Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! / The Year Without a Santa Claus / Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July / Rudolph’s Shiny New Year / and More).