A New York Christmas Wedding – Film Review
A New York Christmas Wedding is a very apt title as there literally is a wedding to occur in the film at Christmas, and it would be in New York. However, if those were the only ingredients involved that would result in a very short film and so nothing is quite as simple in A New York Christmas Wedding! With references to A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life, A New York Christmas Wedding subverts the romantic comedy genre in providing light social commentary in its tender exploration of modern-day issues within religion and suppressed feelings towards a childhood best friend. A New York Christmas Wedding has featured at the 2020 American Black Film Festival, with its World Premiere, and the New York Latino Film Festival and will also be screening at the Urbanworld Film Festival in September 2020.
The protagonist Jenny, played by Nia Fairweather, however, is provided with that opportunity, whilst preparing for her wedding to her fiancé, played by director-writer-actor Otoja Abit, to step back in time and explore what ‘might have been’ in an alternate reality. A New York Christmas Wedding therefore embraces a unique perspective within that sentimental family Christmas film trope due to the impact of the denied feelings, but this could have been developed further.
Feel good in nature, A New York Christmas Wedding also explores substantial themes surrounding the meaning of Christmas and love. There are apparent sensations of grief as well as class divisions unravelled throughout Jenny’s wedding preparations. Flashbacks also indicate that such period is a painful one for Jenny and engulfed with memories of the loss of loved ones. However, an overbearing future mother in law, played by Tyra Ferrell, who is amusingly introduced on screen by a hand-held martini glass, presents a different challenge for celebrating a wedding on Christmas as the intention is for it to be the socialite event of the year, which certainly sounds like a nightmarish scenario!
It is therefore unsurprising that Jenny would willingly accept a young stranger’s offer to take a trip down memory lane to re-live happier moments for a brief period of time. A New York Christmas Wedding’s message throughout such journey is that, ‘love is magical at Christmas.’ Indeed, the film does make a tremendous effort to convey this sensation of Christmas magic and that Christmas spirit but is not always entirely successful in its delivery.
The notion of time travel to teach a protagonist a life lesson or to enable them to express emotions fully is not a new theme and as such A New York Christmas Wedding adopts a formulaic storyline in places. What is refreshing is the focus on the community within Jenny’s alternate reality as she is part of the LGBTQ community there with the intention to have her forthcoming nuptials within a church. Admittedly, it is not instantly convincing as to which scenario, past or present, would be the better for Jenny as her fiancée, Gaby, equally seems controlling but is her first love. A New York Christmas Wedding in taking the audience on this journey through time highlights that emphasis placed on soulmates and the possibility of a first, innocent love, developing into that all-consuming, everlasting love.
Abit had intended to subvert the notion of the traditional ‘Hallmark’ Christmas tale by developing the LGBTQ narrative within A New York Christmas Wedding, which is his first feature film. Within Jenny’s alternate reality there is that examination of equality in the choice of wedding venues for celebrating love irrespective of sexual orientation. In such universe, Jenny is preparing to marry a woman at a ceremony officiated by Father Kelly, played by Chris Noth, of Sex and the City fame. The inclusion of such themes also illustrates the challenges faced by the Catholic Church and other denominations with modernisation and the recognition of different sexual orientations and modern-day practices.
A New York Christmas Wedding does not shirk away from approaching such serious topics concerning the LGBTQ communities however, it is a very light touch approach. Given how much the characters wished to be married within a church as their venue of choice, it seems that the film missed an opportunity to focus fully on the emotional impact of the church’s traditional views and the ongoing individual struggles to petition for more equality to be granted.
It is, however, refreshing to see this departure from the traditional romantic comedy tropes and the redemptive tales of other time travelling Christmas stories. There are a few other substantial themes covered, such as teenage pregnancy, but these felt hurried towards the film’s denouement. Given the prominence of Jenny’s relationship with her childhood friend, Gaby, A New York Christmas Wedding could have devoted more time to her historical backstory, which would have delivered a greater emotional punch.
As for the mystery surrounding Jenny’s time travelling guardian angel Azreal, it is mentioned, in the voiceover, that Jenny’s story was a personal one to him. However, the reveal of his circumstances felt unsatisfactory and as though it required more depth, despite the emotive elements contained. Therefore the overall message for Jenny, following her time travelling antics, seems rather jumbled. There are also moments where Azreal’s presence felt quite sinister within some striking scenes which evoked a gothic, horror style for the cinematography and it is unclear whether all of his intentions were in Jenny’s favour.
Nia Fairweather certainly carries A New York Christmas Wedding through its emotional highs and lows and is a joy to watch on screen. As Jenny, we can resonate with her confusion and painful emotions when entering the alternate reality not as an observer, as per other films of this genre, but as a participant. Fairweather is extremely expressive in such scenes with such a captivating on screen presence.
A New York Christmas Wedding eschews a lot of the traditional Christmas holiday tropes to provide this fresh take within the genre. Overall, A New York Christmas Wedding avoids being overly sentimental in its delivery and is an enjoyable, thought provoking film. The film encourages us to ‘love deeply, trust your heart and be brave’, which is the ideal message to project at Christmas time. Abit certainly impresses with this debut feature and will be one to watch for future projects.