Boxing Day Review – Empire

03 Dec 2021
Boxing Day (2021)
Over the past two decades, British actor Aml Ameen has amassed a list of impressive credits both at home and in the US, starring in the likes of Kidulthood, Yardie, and most recently Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. With winter romcom Boxing Day — inspired by Ameen’s life — the actor has turned his attention to writing and directing. By no means is it a new Christmas classic, but much like 26 December itself, there is still some festive fun to be found.
It starts with an extravagant marriage proposal, as British author Melvin (Ameen) surprises Lisa (Aja Naomi King) with a ring and reluctantly agrees to return to the UK with her so she can meet his family. But it isn’t long before the couple’s joy is scuppered by an encounter with Melvin’s ex-girlfriend and superstar singer Georgia (Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock). Having suddenly left her and his family behind for America years ago when his parents announced their divorce (on Boxing Day), there’s plenty of unresolved drama that catches up with him. Also not helping: Lisa is pregnant but is nervous about telling Melvin, who hates kids.
There are quite a few storylines competing for attention as Boxing Day unfolds. Some work — the love triangle between Melvin, Lisa and Georgia is suitably tense and generates the friction that powers much of the film — while others miss the mark. A subplot involving Melvin’s younger brother Josh (a lively Sheyi Cole) and his love interest is sweet but undercooked, and another featuring the family’s matriarch Shirley (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) having a secret white boyfriend (Stephen Dillane) promises juicy conflict but never quite delivers on it.
If the storytelling authenticity is sometimes lacking, the opposite is true when it comes to _Boxing Day_’s celebration of Black British and Caribbean culture.
Melvin himself is a mixed bag. As played by Ameen, he’s frequently charming and you want to root for him. But from leaving his life in the UK behind without explaining himself to his family or his girlfriend, to similarly poor decision-making once he and Lisa return to his family home, it’s thanks to him that Boxing Day can at times feel like it’s manufacturing conflict for conflict’s sake.
Still, if the storytelling authenticity is sometimes lacking, then the opposite is true when it comes to Boxing Day’s celebration of Black British and Caribbean culture. The food, music and familial banter are all lovingly captured by Ameen, and his direction makes you feel as though you’re sat around the table with all your favourite aunts and uncles as they trade awkward and hilarious barbs with one another.
The ensemble who populate those tables help to pick up some of the narrative slack. King shares easy chemistry with Ameen, and has a ton of fun with a ‘Jafakean’ accent. In her first film role, Pinnock dazzles when she’s on stage and shines in sisterly scenes with Tamara Lawrance’s Aretha, while Jean-Baptiste adds gravitas as the stern head of the family. It’s just a shame that it’s not in service of a tighter story.
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