Things To Do

This Christmas (PG-13) ****

By Soren Andersen, McClatchy News Service

Finally! A Christmas movie that is neither cynical nor saccharine in its handling of the holiday.

After a steady diet of pictures like Christmas with the Kranks and Fred Claus, showcases of toxic family relationships and puerile humor, it’s a relief to come across a movie that celebrates the family with a clear-eyed appreciation of and genuine affection for its characters.

Written and directed by Preston A Whitmore II, this is a home-for-the-holidays story in which the six grown children of matriarch Ma Dear (Loretta Devine) return to the nest for several days of intense family interaction.

The ensemble is large, including not only Ma Dear’s offspring but also assorted significant others. Yet no one gets lost in the crowd. Whitmore has given each of them distinct personalities and remarkable emotional depth.

The boyfriend (Keith Robinson) of the youngest, prettiest sister (Lauren London) debates the merits of his alma mater, all-black Morehouse College, with the young woman’s big sisters, both graduates of Ivy League schools.

The middle sister (Sharon Leal) vents her irritation that her older sister (Regina King), permits herself to be manipulated by her cad of a husband (Laz Alonso).The middle brother (Columbus Short), a Marine, struggles to work up the nerve to tell his mother he’s seriously involved with a young white woman (Jessica Stroup).

The youngest brother (singer Chris Brown), has his own secret: He wants to be a singer. One of the picture’s high points is when he takes the Otis Redding hit, Try a Little Tenderness, and makes it wholly his own in an electrifying nightclub performance.

Emotional crosscurrents tug the characters every which way, and the uniform excellence of the performances give the conflicts, and the picture, great resonance. For that reason This Christmas feels like a lovely gift.