From writer, director and star Aml Ameen comes Warner Bros’ big Christmas film of the year: and it’s a British romantic comedy.

With his directorial debut, Boxing Day, Aml Ameen can’t be accused of playing it safe. Best known for his acting work – and he takes a lead role here too – he’s placed his chips on the latest resurrection of the big screen romantic comedy, with a film that gleefully demonstrates its romance, its influences and its commitment to the genre. And it’s no small achievement that Ameen has pretty much pulled it off.

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Boxing Day is a festive film then, cut from similar cloth as films such as Love Actually, Notting Hill and My Best Friend’s Wedding, each of which get tips of the hat (some more dramatic tips than others). Penned by Ameen along with Bruce Purnell, the set up sees Melvin (yep, that’s Ameen) and Lisa (Aja Naomi King), with life very much looking up. Melvin has a book out, has an elaborate marriage proposal planned, and Lisa has a job offer to ponder. Thing is, we meet the couple in America, and as part of his book promotion, Melvin’s got to go to the UK, where he’ll be seeing his family again for the first time in two years.

Oh, and it just happens to be Christmas.

Soon, they’re across the channel and we see the mess Melvin left behind in London when he suddenly upped sticks a couple of years prior. His mum, Shirley (the always-great Marianne Jean-Baptiste), has built a secretive new relationship following his dad’s affair, for instance. It’d be fair to say too that Melvin didn’t leave things well with his ex, Georgia, played by Leigh-Anne Pinnock. And there’s a cauldron of family tensions slotted into place during a dense first half hour, which simmer and threaten to blow over.

It’s this opening segment where the film could use just a little goodwill on the side of the audience as Ameel gets quite a lot of things into place. There’s a lot of characters here, and no shortage of plot threads. It’s not that the film has bitten off more than it can chew, as by the end it turns out it can chew it all perfectly well thank you. It’s the laying of foundations though where the film’s energy sags.

It’s notable because elsewhere, Boxing Day has energy in abundance. It firmly ramps things up too when we get to Melvin’s home, and we gradually get introduced to his many aunties, uncles, friends and relatives. The film describes them as an ‘eccentric British-Caribbean family’, and doesn’t shortchange you there. Heck, as the party gets into full swing, there are scene-stealers all over the place, although I’d probably have to award the ultimate crown there to Lisa Davina Phillip’s hilarious Auntie Valerie, amongst some stuff competition.

Bursting with music, it’s just the kind of film this that could have come together as quite a sombre drama. It’s very clear that Ameen is having none of that. He’s fused this with Christmas, packed it with music and once he finds his footing, he doesn’t let the film lose it again.

Going to the central romance at the heart of the film, between Melvin and Lisa, it’s very much cut from romantic comedy cloth, and lives firmly on that playing field, little contrivances and all. Furthermore, there were moments here where of all the characters, Melvin was ironically enough the one I warmed to the least. Especially when his fiancée and his ex come together at one point, I did think the pair were well to be shot of him. But this is where the sheer charm of the movie comes into play, gradually finding a kind of old fashioned romcom fuzziness in the midst of a big, loud, boisterous Christmas party of a movie.

Boxing Day is a treat, all the more special for being a big screen mainstream British festive film, that puts a family we’re not used to seeing at the heart of it all. One particular sequence of flat out mayhem between a cavalcade of uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters, and bottles of Red Stripe, left me sat with a huge grin on my face, realising I was in safe hands here. For Ameen is no cynic. He’s made a film with its heart open, its funny bone active, and with charm and warmth to spare. It’s a big festive party, and we’re all invited.

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