Christmas is hard. Even if you like your family – and I mean each and every one of them, even when they’re drinking – even if you LOVE them, it’s tough to be around them and not eventually revert to our petty childhood selves. Ma’Dere (Loretta Divine) is the matriarch of the Whitfield. A mother of six, there’s nothing this mama loves more than having her kids around the table at Christmas time, and with son Quentin home for holidays for the first time in four years, this year is bound to be one of the best. Right?
Except Quentin (Idris Elba) and Ma’Dere have a slight strain in their relationship because he idolizes his father, who left the family to pursue his love of music. And then so did Quentin. And Quentin’s not fond of Ma’Dere’s new beau Joe (Delroy Lindo) who’s actually lived with her in the family home for years, but when Quentin’s around, they pretend otherwise. Sister Lisa (Regina King) might have something to say about it – she usually does, about everything, she’s the self-declared caretaker and know-it-all of the family – but this year she’s a little preoccupied with her own failing marriage. And guess what? The rest of the kids are struggling too: one keeps switching majors and never graduating, one owes an awful lot of money and is about to be visited by some knee-busting bookies, one is secretly married (to a white lady!)…well, you get the point. Just your typical warm and fuzzy Christmas – and actually, I mean that sincerely. Because everybody’s got something. You, me, and the secret white wife. We’re all dealing with our own shit, and then stepping on each other’s toes trying to deal with each other at Christmas. But the Whitfields are a nice family. They love each other. They cook together and dance in the living room and bicker over how big the tree is.
The cast (minus Chris Brown) goes a long way in making the Whitfield house feel like a home. They’re affectionate and snippy and get in each other’s space and business just like real siblings do when given time and eggnog. Lack of time + surplus of siblings = we only get to know about 4/6 of them as real people. The rest, plus spouses, kids, and hangers-on, just fill in the spaces of the house, making sure the dining room table gets fully extended (anyone else always get stuck lugging in the leaves? and also, why are they called leaves?) and the turkey gets picked to the bone. Ma’Dere’s house is as full as her heart and truthfully, I could have spent even longer at their hearth, chaos and all.