112 min. | PG-13
Everything is a little better than it needs to be in this ambling comedy about a spirited family holiday gathering. The formula is an old chestnut, but writer-director David E. Talbert and the on-point African-American cast make these family squabbles and sentiments go down with the same smooth, tasty ease of the sweet potato pie that becomes one of the film’s central plot points.
Patriarch Walter Meyers (Danny Glover, so good at wrenching emotional notes from stalwart actions) is facing his first Christmas after the death of his beloved wife. Alone in the big house where they raised their four children, he summons his grown offspring to return home for the holidays. Each comes with his or her own baggage in tow, as well as spouses, grandchildren, old resentments, and new gripes. Joining them is Walter’s sister-in-law May (Mo’Nique, in fine form), a campy backup singer who’s traveled the world with all the top bands.
It all plays out at a leisurely pace that allows us to get to know the characters and feel for their issues. Sparks fly, genuine laughs ensue, standard-issue dance sequences and family football games take place, and a homeless shelter is saved. The five days of togetherness are filled with challenges and enjoyment, and sequel Meyers family reunions surely will follow, although none is likely to be as sweet as this sugar plum.