Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 50 minutes, Director – Aml Ameen
British writer, Melvin (Aml Ameen) returns home after two years to introduce his American fiancée, Lisa (Aja Naomi King), to his family, where tensions rise at the presence of his ex, and family friend, Georgia (Leigh-Anne Pinnock).
The days in-between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve often feel slightly lost in time. There’s sometimes uncertainty as to what to do with these four or five days, and indeed as to which one is which in the leftover turkey fuelled haze. It’s a slight feeling that works its way into the feature directorial debut of co-writer (alongside Bruce Purnell) Aml Ameen. With its various conflicting family members and rom-com strands it occasionally feels as if it’s been thrown back a number of years, feeling more in the shadow of the likes of Love Actually – which the film references before Ameen’s central character, Melvin, is told “them things don’t work no more” as he tries to convey his message through writing on large cards.
Yet, Ameen’s film isn’t a throwback to more traditional Christmas rom-coms. It appears as a throwback to family Christmases of his past. The film’s hear lies in sequences of writer Melvin’s extended British Caribbean family sharing food, rum and dominoes on Boxing Day. Laughing and joking with each other in a joyful air that flows through the environment as the camera simply appears to sit and watch various conversations unfold from the kitchen to the front room. However, Melvin’s worries of introducing his American fiancée, Lisa (Aja Naomi King), to his family – after having not seen them for two years – escalate when his ex, family friend and chart-topping singer Georgia (Leigh-Anne Pinnock) enters the scene. Despite having been broken up for over two years, and Georgia also having been in another, recently ended relationship, the two don’t seem to have properly gotten over each other.
While initially getting on as strangers, jealousy begins to rise in the gradually antagonistic relationship between Georgia and Lisa when they realise their mutual connection through Melvin. As things heat up there’s a shift in Lisa’s personality too, almost as if King begins to play a different character. Initially open and friendly, ready to get on with the family, as she has more exchanges with her fiancée’s ex she becomes a much more upfront, slightly confrontational, figure. As this core strand is explored further and the arguments rise within the family home on a day which has become known as something of a disaster in Melvin’s mind, events which caused him to move away to America in the first place, the drama tries to come into play more however it’s hindered by the performances.
The performances themselves are good on the whole, however there’s a feeling throughout that you can tell they’re performances and that the cast are acting. Even when in the background with somewhat static facial expressions there’s the feeling that most of the cast are acting, which at times comes across as slightly off-putting. Luckily, the vibrant atmosphere of the Boxing Day festivities and cultural celebration highlights comes back to allow you to sit near the table – often still feeling the barrier of the screen between you and the events.
Yet, as all of this unfolds we see Melvin’s mum (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) believe that the biggest controversy of the day will be introducing everyone to her white boyfriend Richard (Stephen Dillane). In addition to brother Josh (Sheyi Cole) is attempting to find a way to tell someone he loves her, despite threats from her ex, there are a handful of strands running throughout the film and yet it never feel rushed or too busy – only in the final stages as it wraps up some of the lesser strands very quickly does this feeling kind of come in to play. Perhaps it’s because some of the best content lies in these moments, when not focusing solely on the main arc, where some of the more traditional elements lie. Yes, not a great deal seems to happen with them, but they do offer some amusement and respite aside from the relationship drama that’s unfolding between the not-quite-love-triangle – particularly when it comes to the brief scenes between Jean-Baptiste and Dillane.
Boxing Day perhaps works best when it remembers not to be a big festive rom-com in the vein of more traditional Christmas films of years gone by. Instead leaning more towards something a bit more like Boxing Day itself, for better and not-so-better. When focusing on its family aspect and British-Caribbean cultural celebrations, and the family unit at the heart of the film as a whole, it manages to engage you and form a slight connection with the figures on screen. Even if the performances noticeably come back to the fore in the drama of changed characters there’s still a watchable feature at play with some occasional chuckles and exhales of amusement to help things along the way.
While occasionally feeling a bit lost in time due to its festive rom-com influences there’s an occasional celebratory family spirit within Boxing Day which manages to lift things up from the more traditional drama at play.