Boxing Day

***

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Boxing Day
"There's a lot going on. Possibly too much, but that's ambition."

Melvin is coming home for the holidays. He's got a new book to promote, but that's not the only thing he seems to be unwilling to talk about. However generous the airline's allowance is, he's carrying a lot of baggage.

There are already several films called Boxing Day. One of Danny Huston's many Russian Literature adaptations, another one subtitled A Day After Christmas, which depending on your level of pedantry, may be both true and meaningless. There are crime dramas, sporting comedies, others that, like this one, are romantic comedies, and most if not all of them involve families. 'Tis the season, and all that.

Plenty of other holidays have eponymous movies. Halloween has three films called Halloween in the same franchise. The first, second, last, 12th, and 13th days of Christmas have all had popcorn a-popping. There's Father's Day(s), Mother's Day(s), a fistful of Valentines. Other Saints get a bit of a look-in, yer man Patrick has a couple only one of which is a horror movie, George has a London gangster flick, David and Andrew are left out but that last is my cross to bear. Though a good proportion of them are crime and horror the main thread running through them is family.

Melvin is played by Aml Ameen, who directs and co-writes with Bruce Purnell. It's a debut feature as writers for both, though they've some half dozen shorts between them. Melvin lives in LA, moving there as a reaction to some family news and he hasn't been back since. A minor celebrity, a role in a soap, and now with a science fiction novel to promote he's back on a London morning TV sofa. The novel is one of the nicer bits of production design, the font choices scream BAEN to connoisseurs which I appreciated. Harder to excuse but no less common are some liberties with London geography. Though the scale of one of the houses is explained if you were to search for the address, as they've not obfuscated it - the walk from south of Cricklewood to Carnaby Street isn't a short one.

Ameen's soap career is smaller than Melvin's - two small roles in Holby and EastEnders, and a longer run in The Bill. Kidulthood gave him a bigger break, and his most recent 'big thing' is probably I May Destroy You. As Lisa, his (concealed) fiancee with secrets of her own we have Aja Naomi King. She's had some significant roles in American TV, and a few films, including A Girl From Mogadishu. This will be her introduction to Melvin's family, and, indeed, his past. That includes Georgia, I think potentially another debut for Little Mix member Leigh-Anne Pinnock.

There are some veterans in the cast too - Melvin's mother is played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, her career's got everything from Mike Leigh to TV to the Robocop remake. There are several other faces audiences will find familiar, which works to sell the sense of characters who know each other but also emphasises the cliches within the story.

It's entertaining enough, but despite some dozen named female characters and a love triangle and (at least in the novel) an alien in human form it doesn't pass the Bechdel test. There's no drama that's not created or made worse by people not talking to each other. The voiceover at the start feels like telling and not showing and for all the quality of its performances this feels like leftovers and not the main course. Not even in that sense that flavours can sometimes mature overnight, if there's one takeaway here it's that ingredients, however good, need balancing.

There's a lot going on. Possibly too much, but that's ambition. There are odd details, like a bar owner acquiring alcohol for a party at retail, but there are odder details like sitcom levels of unexplained housing. The cast are almost entirely black British, which is a treat, but that means a subplot where a romantic rivalry becomes violent feels a bit disappointing.

Musically there are some treats. General scoring is provided by James Poyser, member of The Roots. Among other notable oddities they are the house band for Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show. There's at least one dramatic swirl that seems to have been lifted from Back To The Future, and I don't know if an earlier draft had Melvin's novel being about time travel. This certainly feels old-fashioned in places, and not just because Marty first McFlew 36 years ago. Pinnock sings too, there's one of those secret intimate gigs you're always hearing about and a number that seems taken straight from the Radio 1 Live Lounge formula.

Formula, perhaps, being the most important notion. This is a by the numbers holiday romance, I wouldn't go so far as to say rom-com if only because the comic elements are present but minimal. There are homages to other films of the genre, though Love Actually lacked the reaction of passing motorists. There are also out-takes in the credits, but as fun as they are they're never going to be enough to recommend it. It should be lauded for the quality of its cast and for its setting in a recognisable black British London. I've encountered others talking about it in relation to Channel 4's Desmond's but it ended in 1994. There have to be more apposite, accurate, and timely representations and this is certainly one of them. That's not enough to make it a must see, however. It's a nice enough time, but much like the eponymous day you will likely find yourself with other plans.

Reviewed on: 03 Dec 2021
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Boxing Day packshot
A British author comes home for Christmas to introduce his American fiancee to his British-Caribbean family.

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