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Boxing Day (2021)

Boxing Day is the type of movie that Black Canadians, especially Caribbeans, have been waiting for! However, the wait continues, because this romantic comedy about the introduction of an African American woman into a Caribbean family Christmas is set in London, UK, not Toronto, Canada. Who do we have to thank for it? Mainly Aml Ameen who co-wrote, directed, and starred in the film.

Meet Melvin (played by Aml Ameen of The Porter 2022), the Jamaican British author who has taken himself off to California, launched a successful career, and met the love of his life. Or has he? Now meet Lisa (played by the stunning Aja Naomi King) a successful African American career woman who thinks that she has met the love of her life in Melvin. But uncertainty lingers between them. For one thing, when Melvin surprises Lisa with a romantic and creative marriage proposal (he hires a band to serenade her with the Isley Brothers’ classic “Living for the Love of you” [1975] at home), she vomits! But hold up. There’s a reason for this. You see Lisa has just found out that she is pregnant and has yet to tell Melvin. You’d think forthrightness would be the best way forward in such a situation, but instead she sneakily quizzes him about his desire for children eliciting a rather negative reaction. Her response? Well, certainly not the honesty that is warranted. You see, these two have communication issues that, as the movie unfolds, we see are anchored (on Melvin’s side) in his family dysfunction.

Melvin is heading back to London to promote his new book, and sadly, Lisa must convince him that it would be a good time for her to meet his family. After some initial pushback, he agrees. But once the pair lands across the pond the reasons for Melvin’s initial hesitance are revealed. You see his family, biological and extended (which wonderfully includes Jamaicans, other British Caribbeans, Africans, and white people) is lovable, loud, a bit unhinged, definitely chaotic, and more than a little nosy. Shocked by Melvin’s reappearance after an extended silence, they would like to know why he has suddenly turned up without explanations with a fiancé on his arm, about whom none of them was made aware.

The humour and joy that permeate the film and will bring smiles and even tears especially to Black Caribbean Canadian viewers’ eyes, come from its careful representation of the specific details of a Jamaican household. When the older men of the family – Jamaican and African gather – they play dominoes, not cards. When the food is laid out for the gathering, there are closeup shots on plantain and curry goat. When the family jump up and dance, it is to dancehall music. When Melvin’s father (Bilal played by Robbie Gee) shows up uninvited (and boldly uses his own key to enter the family home), it is with Wray and Nephew white overproof rum under one arm and Red Stripe beer under the other. This magical pairing is what he assumes will suspend the family animosity long enough to gain him entrance, and he would be correct. So why was his key use and his very presence a bold move? Well, you see, it was his philandering that broke up his marriage to Melvin’s mother Shirley (played by the storied Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who has made star turns on the small screen in TV shows like Without a Trace [2002-2009] and in feature films like Takers [2010]).

But Bilal is not the only complication. There’s also the fact that Shirley feels compelled to hide her white lover, Richard (played by Stephen Dillane), from her children and friends. And on top of this, there is Georgia (played by the beautiful Leigh-Anne Pinnock). Why is she a complication? Well, when Melvin abruptly fled England for California, he not only abandoned his family, but his mixed-race girlfriend Georgia (African father, white British mother) who has, in his absence, become a global music superstar.

Melvin’s return is a provocation and an eruption into which he has, with great cowardice, dropped his unsuspecting pregnant fiancé, Lisa. And while poor Lisa is trying to win the family over by playing dominoes and trash taking in Patwa, Georgia’s unexpected and uninvited appearance at the family gathering provokes a confrontation between the two women who battle over their attachment to Melvin and their place in his family and his heart. To be fair, they are both aggrieved by Melvin who has been less than truthful or candid with both; Georgia who he unexpectedly abandoned to flee to California, and Lisa, who he introduces into his family drama without warning.

Ironically, it is Melvin’s mother Shirley who calls him on his nonsense and challenges him for bringing his pregnant fiancé into family chaos; ironic because this matriarch is hiding her relationship with Richard from family and friends alike. Melvin’s response to his mom’s confrontation? Lisa’s pregnant? Melvin’s cluelessness extends to his own motivations and state of mind. You see, he has not only been dishonest with Lisa and Georgia, but with himself. In a poignant conversation with his father, what emerges is Melvin’s fears of repeating his father’s sins. But his response has been to flee from commitment altogether (Georgia) or to half-ass it (Lisa). This self-realization leads to Melvin’s overdue reckoning. Will he be able to win Lisa back who, fed up with his duplicity, has decided to accept a job offer in New Zealand? Will he be able to make peace with his family, including a mother, brother, and sister who feel disrespected?

A particularly moving moment is when Bilal and Richard team up to serenade Shirley at the community centre Christmas pageant that she and Richard have co-directed. The choice of song? Well, Beres Hammond’s classic “They Gonna Talk” (1999) which include the lyrics:

They gonna talk, they gonna talk, they gonna talk

They gonna say a lot of things about us

You said you know that love is not a sin

But you worry what the people say

As the pair serenade Shirley and Bilal guides her to the stage, he places her hand in Richard’s and the pair embrace in front of their family and friends who are in attendance.

Boxing Day is a fun, humorous, joyful romantic comedy that weaves the flavours, rhythms, and character of British Jamaica throughout. It also comes bearing lessons about honesty, trust, and integrity that we could all stand to brush up on. Although this 2021 release is no longer in theatres, it’s certainly worth tracking down!