Brief synopsis: A woman faces a dilemma of the heart when her future husband fails to her support when his mother interferes with their wedding plans. Out for a run, she meets a man who shows her an alternate reality to the one she is living.
Is it any good?: A New York Christmas Wedding is quite an underwhelming and slightly preachy film. I thought the acting was bad but as the film continued it became apparent that it was the directing that was amiss. A New York Christmas Wedding is only a Christmas film in so much as it is set at Christmas and has a story loosely inspired by A Christmas Carol or It’s A Wonderful Life.
Unfortunately, it crosses that with Moonlight. Inspired by three excellent movies as it is, A New York Christmas Wedding is not an excellent or good film.
Spoiler territory: teenager, Jennifer (Camila Harden) is rushing around her home excitedly, preparing Christmas treats for her best friend, Gabrielle (Natasha Goodman), who is supposed to be coming over to decorate the tree. She gives her a call but Gabrielle is with Vincent (Avery Whitted). They get into an argument and Jennifer tells Gabrielle that she never wants to see her again.
While Gabrielle has sex with the wastrel, Vincent, Jennifer pens a vicious letter to her, venting her feelings and rage at her not coming to see her, especially as she knows that she finds it difficult to deal with the Christmas period ever since her mother’s death. She posts the letter.
Twenty years later, Jennifer (Nia Fairweather) has left a career in finance and is working as a veterinary assistant. After a particularly emotional day at the practice, witnessing a dog die without the owners being present, she goes home to her fiancé, David (Otoja Abit). His parents have come over for dinner and his mother, Alison (Tyra Ferrell) tells her about the arrangements she has made for Alison and her son’s upcoming wedding.
Alison tells her that they have booked Christmas Eve for the wedding. Jennifer is not happy about having a Christmas wedding. Alison, oblivious to Jennifer’s feelings, insists on creating a showpiece wedding, even though Jennifer tries to make it clear that is the last thing she wants. David sits silently. Jennifer, appalled at her future husband’s lack of support for her, leaves the dinner and goes for a run.
Whilst she is out running, she sees a man on a bicycle get hit by a car and rushes over to help him. The cyclist insists he is alright even as Jennifer tries to collect details about the incident. The car driver drives off. The cyclist, Azrael (Cooper Koch), seems nonplussed by the whole thing. Jennifer insists on walking with him for a bit to make sure he has not got a concussion.
Jennifer ends up telling him how hard she finds Christmas time hard, ever since she fell out with her best friend around Christmas, her father died around Christmas and her mother died many years before. Azrael tells her that love is all around her and that when she wakes up the next day, she should look for it.
Jennifer returns home and goes to sleep next to David. She wakes up the next day to find a dog licking her and that she is in a relationship with Gabrielle (Adriana DeMeo). Gabrielle tells her she needs to walk the dog. A confused Jennifer takes the dog for a walk. She bumps into Azrael. She wants to know what is going on. She insists that he take her back to her normal apartment. Azrael takes her back there but David does not know her and has a family; a wife and children.
Azrael tells her that he is her guardian angel and she is in an alternate world in which she is engaged to be married to her first true love, Gabrielle. He tells her she has forty-eight hours to sort out her life. Jennifer heads to her old childhood home. Her father (David Anzuelo) is still alive.
She heads to the church to meet Gabrielle. She is late. They were meant to have a meeting with Father Kelly (Chris Noth). Luckily, the father waited for them. In the meeting, Gabrielle voices her disquiet at not being able to marry in his church, a church which they have come to all their lives and in which she fronts the choir. She wants to get married, by him, in that church.
On the way home, the two ladies run into Vincent. He has not changed and Jennifer punches him for disrespecting Gabrielle. Back in the car, Jennifer is excited by things that are normal to Gabrielle, like seeing her father.
Gabrielle tells her she sees him every day. They head to Jennifer’s father for dinner. Jennifer asks him if he would be happier if she married a rich man. He tells her that Gabrielle is good for her and they are always laughing.
Later, Jennifer asks Gabrielle if she remembers the letter she wrote to her. She tells her how hurt she was that she picked Vincent over her. Gabrielle tells her that she felt rejected by both her and her own family. They go home.
At home, Gabrielle gives Jennifer the letter that she wrote to her twenty years before. The letter is brutal and raw. Gabrielle tells her that at least in the letter she was true to herself. They go to bed. The next day, after walking the dog, Jennifer goes to church. Gabrielle had left her a note telling her not to wear leather pants.
In a semi-full church, Father Kelly’s sermon is about the persecution of homosexual people in religion. Some of the congregation, offended by his open-minded approach, leave the church. Father Kelly carries on, undeterred. In a departure from normal proceedings, the father has a first communion for same-sex couples. The surprise does not stop there.
He officiates an impromptu wedding ceremony for Gabrielle and Jennifer. It turns out not to be so impromptu, Gabrielle having organised the whole thing with Father Kelly and Jennifer’s father. The now-married couple attends their reception.
At the reception, Jennifer sees Azrael. He tells her that her time is nearly up and that he is not only her guardian angel, he is also the stillborn son of Gabrielle. Her life in that reality ends that night. Jennifer goes to sleep with Gabrielle, the reception over and the two falling asleep happily. She wakes up with David kissing her.
David apologises for not standing up for her against his mother. Jennifer decides to take David to see where she grew up and how she came from a working-class background. They go to her old church and look into Gabrielle’s past. They find out that she got pregnant and her family disowned her. The baby was stillborn and she committed suicide shortly after the birth.
Jennifer asks about Father Kelly and is told that he was removed from the church for officiating same-sex marriages. As they are leaving the church, Jennifer sees Azrael, who David cannot see, sitting in a pew… She tells David to wait for her and she goes and speaks to him.
Azrael tells he can grant her one more wish. He can take her back to a point of her choosing but she will never see him again. Jennifer goes back to the day she wrote the letter. She reacts differently during the phone call and Gabrielle never sleeps with Vincent, instead deciding to honour her commitment to Jennifer.
A young Jennifer tells her that she loves her and the two girls kiss. They decorate the Christmas tree and Jennifer tells her what she sees in their future. The end.
Final thoughts: A New York Christmas Wedding is, on second viewing, an interesting film that suffers from trying to cover too many bases and poor directing. Written and directed by Otoja Abit, who also plays David, not to mention having a producer credit, Abit might have created a better film if he had enlisted a second pair of eyes to the project. The script definitely could have used some help.
The actors are made to look somewhat robotic and a little stagey with many scenes sounding unnatural. The shot selection is amateurish with the viewer often looking at the person talking for the entire time, never witnessing the reaction of the listener.
Perhaps it is the lack of camera movement in some scenes or framing but many of the scenes feel flat, relying on the performances of the actor to bring all of the emotion. That being said, the dynamic and chemistry between Fairweather’s Jennifer and DeMeo’s Gabrielle works really well and you believe they are a couple in love. Truth be told, even with the subpar material the acting is quite good even if it is not apparent in every scene.
What the film mostly suffers from is a lack of commitment to one narrative. The central story of Jennifer being too fearful to pick her true path is muddied somewhat with the easy option of life having picked her path for her, with everyone whom she truly cared about being dead, leaving her to follow the traditional path of a hetero-normal marriage and security.
The normal tropes of a Christmas film, where the central character sacrifices for love, are smudged by the fact that she gets to cheat her way to happiness by having another go at life from a particularly trying time in her life. Though Jennifer had suffered in her life, in adulthood she hardly seemed in a place that warranted or deserved a complete reset.
A New York Christmas Wedding is not an unwatchable film but it is not good either. It also has very little to do with Christmas and could have been set at literally anytime. At eighty-eight minute long, it is not a long film but, because of its pedestrian pacing, feels longer. If you are looking for something festive this is not the film.