Although a seasonal rom-com with plenty of extra drama, Boxing Day, as the name suggests, is also a film about that time during the holidays when the focus isn't necessarily on the gifts and messages of love and peace. Boxing day is when people enjoy leftovers, and it's when the warm glow of Christmas Day starts to turn into a roaring fire, one that can either keep you energised and glowing or can have you raring to restart that long-running feud with your cousin that used to steal all of your best Matchbox cars and Action Man figures.
Aml Ameen is Melvin, a young British man who is about to reluctantly head home for the holidays to visit his family. He'll have to make an appearance, despite the fact that his main reason for heading back to the UK is to help promote his new book. Melvin's family will all be meeting his partner, Lisa (Aja Naomi King). More importantly, Lisa will be meeting them. There are the usual ups and downs you get with any family unit, but things are complicated when Lisa finds out that Melvin's sister, Aretha (Tamara Lawrance), is an assistant to a talented British singer, Georgia (Leigh-Anne Pinnock). Oh, and Georgia used to be in a serious relationship with Melvin.
As well as starring in this, Aml Ameen both wrote (with Bruce Purnell) and directed the movie, basing a lot of the general atmosphere and the family interactions on his own experiences. I was initially worried, my default position when I realise that a star has given himself a role in something they have also written and directed, but there was no need. Ameen proves himself very much up to every task he assigns himself, and he steps back often enough to allow some light to shine on his very talented cast.
King is very easy to root for throughout, put in an awkward situation from very early on and coming out swinging to prove that she's no passing distraction, and Pinnock (making a smooth transition from singing with Little Mix to portraying a singer here) does well opposite her. The two women both have strong attachments to Ameen's character, but you can also easily believe that both may open their eyes to other possibilities at any point, leaving Melvin alone and full of regret. Lawrance is great fun, Sheyi Cole is hilarious as the love-struck Josh (pursuing a young woman who used to date his cousin, played by Samson Kayo, much to the cousin's displeasure), and there are lovely moments for Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Stephen Dillane, Robbie Gee, and everyone else involved in some of the scenes that depict the cosy chaos of a large family gathering.
As well as the mix of expected tropes and melodrama, Boxing Day has a wonderful soundtrack selection, one or two moments of sweetness that play out well, without somehow feeling too schmaltzy, and a great look at the holiday season through a different filter. Populated by a cast that is almost entirely black, this is a film depicting a specific experience within a Caribbean-British household, but it's in being so specific, and drawing on such personal memories, that Ameen manages to hit the bullseye for viewers who will soon see that, while exact customs and scenarios will differ, we're all in the same boat when it comes to balancing the love and support along with the emotional turbulence and insanity that is all part of being part of any family.
A bit cheesy, quite predictable, maybe slightly overlong, Boxing Day is nevertheless a great directorial debut from Ameen. Don't expect perfection and you should enjoy it as much as I did. Which is also a good motto for the entire holiday season.
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