Netflix UK film review: This Christmas
Ivan Radford | On 16, Dec 2019Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Preston A. Whitmore II
Cast: Loretta Devine, Regina King, Chris Brown, Delroy Lindo, Idris Elba, Mekhi Phifer
Watch This Christmas online in the UK: Netflix UK
We unwrap a different Christmas film from Netflix’s dubious seasonal selection every day. For 12 days. It’s the 12 Days of Netflix.
In 1984, Wham! released the song Last Christmas. About 30 years later, it was the inspiration for a Christmas film of the same name. In 1970, soul legend Donny Hathaway recorded This Christmas. And, about 30 years later, it, too, inspired a film of the same name. Where Last Christmas was too cheesy for its own good, though, This Christmas keeps its cheese levels in check with a fantastic cast.
Writer-director gathers an epic ensemble of stars to play the African-American Whitfield family, who all return to the home of matriarch Ma’Dere (Loretta Devine) for the holidays. There’s Regina King as Lisa, who is tolerating the fact that her husband, Malcolm (Laz Alonso), is cheating on her; there’s Keith Robinson as Devan, the naive boyfriend of youngest daughter Mel (Lauren London), who may or may not be in love with him; there’s Columbus Short as Claude, who has secretly married a white woman (Jessica Stroup’s Sandi); there’s Sharon Leal as Kelli, who hooks up with an old friend from school (Mekhi Phifer); and there’s Quentin (Idris Elba), a successful musician who hasn’t been home in four years. And, just in case that’s not enough secrets with potential for dramatic revelations, Ma’Dere, too, has secretly been living with her boyfriend, Joseph, played by Delroy Lindo.
But, even with the most festive goodwill, that’s definitely too much family drama for one movie, and Preston A. Whitmore II’s script is cramped by the sheer number of plot strands it tries to squeeze in – even with a two-hour runtime to play with, it’s a weighty tome of twists and turns, which doesn’t really fit the easygoing requirements of a Christmas movie.
Fortunately, This Christmas has just the thing to help wrap up the daunting amount of pure stuff: an excellent cast. It’s a treat to see Delroy Lindo and Loretta Devine given a chance to take leading roles, and it’s equally fun to see Elba play something away from his usual type. While the film is far too long and convoluted, the cast relish the chance to each have their moments, and they interact with the messiness, intensity and entertaining affection of a real family. When one person succeeds, they all succeed.
That particularly becomes true when Chris Brown takes the stage to deliver his version of the title track – and boy, can he sing. He kick-starts a soundtrack of toe-tapping, blues-fuelled seasonal favourites, from Luther Vandross’ Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to TLC’s Sleigh Ride. The result is a catchy number that won’t ever be a chart-topping hit, but has enough of a charming groove to be a repeat fixture on your seasonal playlist – this Christmas and in Christmases to come.
This Christmas is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.