“A New York Christmas Wedding” Asks You to Believe in the Power of Love at Christmas

The following review contains light spoilers for A New York Christmas Wedding, now streaming on Netflix.

I’m a firm believer that, among us who are obsessed with All Things Christmas, there are only two camps of people: 1) there’s “Christmas Begins The Day After Halloween” people, and 2) there’s “Christmas Begins The Day After Thanksgiving” people. And I am strongly the latter. I have never listened to a single note of Mariah Carey nor dusted off my Christmas movie collection out of the streaming queue until the turkey has been stuffed, then stuffed into my belly and the last slice of pecan pie has been served cold with annual Day After Thanksgiving coffee. That was, until I saw the trailer for Netflix’s A New York Christmas Wedding.

In Christmas of 1999, in Queens, a teenage Jennifer Ortiz is busy baking cookies and prepping eggnog for her best friend Gabrielle Vernaci. If you’ve ever been a teenage girl who was madly in love with her best friend — which, if you’re reading this review on this website, the odds are pretty high that you know exactly what I’m talking about — it’s easy to recognize Jenny’s nervous energy immediately. And once you realize that Gabby is equally busy at home making out with Vinny, the fight between the two “best friends” could be predicted right away as well. Jenny, now a mess of tears, writes a very dramatic teenage letter to the girl she hasn’t quite yet worked up the courage to say that she’s obviously madly in love with, and storms off to the mailbox.

A grown up Jenny (played by Nia Fairweather) now lives in Manhattan and is engaged to her fiancé, David. Jenny’s going through a lot of major changes and something about her life with David doesn’t quite fit. A twist of Christmas fate brings Jenny together with her guardian angel — excuse me, her guardian gayngel — Azrael (Cooper Koch), tall, willowy, full of graceful strides and just a hint of flamboyance, topped off with perfect messy curls on his head.

“You shouldn’t underestimate the power of love around Christmas,” promises Azrael. “If you look around, if you really look, you will see endless possibilities.”

Jenny goes to bed that night next to David, but when she wakes up — she’s engaged to a grown up Gabrielle (Adriana DeMeo) back in Queens on Christmas Eve. Alternative timelines have been set and we’re set-up for the kind of “magic of Christmas” love stories that take over Lifetime, Hallmark, and now even Netflix and Hulu this time of year. Except instead of some far-off Snow White Christmas Village, it’s an queer Afro-Latina looking for love in a very not whitewashed New York.

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When I first saw the trailer, I literally hand over my mouth squealed and stomped my feet. I love Christmas. I love having a guardian gayngel. Despite probably better instincts, I love Sex and the City and Mr. Big (did I mention that Chris Noth has a starring role as Jenny’s priest? He also served as an executive producer on the film for his friend Otoja Abit, the director and writer). I LOVE A QUEER AFRO-LATINA IN NEW YORK GETTING A GAY CHRISTMAS LOVE STORY!!!

And yes the all caps are necessary, because when have you ever in your life, and I truly do mean ever, seen a gay Christmas love story with a woman of color lead? Considering there are currently less queer Christmas movies than you can count on one single hand and just last year Hallmark tried to ban lesbian kisses from their supremely straight Christmas network altogether, the answer is you haven’t.

A New York Christmas Wedding delivers on its promise of its title. Believe it or not, a Christmas Wedding does in fact happen in New York. What’s most sublime is that it is a New York I recognize. I’m a Black Puerto Rican who’s spent almost every Christmas of my life in the city. And listen, I just love when Black people speak Spanish on screen, which is pretty much the most superficial sentence I could ever write — but even within Latinx stories, representation as an Afro-Latina is a desert and when that happens, damn you will drink the effing sand. I loved that they got the details of this very caribeña Christmas right. That they had their big family dinner on Nochebuena. That dinner had arroz con leche for dessert and plátanos maduros piled high on the plate. That Jenny’s mother had a big 1970s Afro, just like the kind my mother had, in her photo on the ofrenda. In any other film, those details could be taken for granted. But Black, Caribbean, Latinx families — we’re not often seen. Instead, we’re asked to piece ourselves together from other people’s stories. It matters that A New York Christmas Wedding took seriously what this kind of Christmas would actually look like.

Any kind of Christmas love story can’t get far if the love story between the leads isn’t believable. The chemistry between Jenny and Gabby — both as teenagers and adults — is so tender and sweet. At one point, Gabby takes Jenny’s hands in her own. “Do you trust me?” She asks, quietly searching, even though she already knows the answer:

“Always.”

Just like that, despite A New York Christmas Wedding’s pretty overwhelming flaws, I couldn’t help but clutch my heart and smile huge and wonder what if Christmas love is real after all?

Unfortunately, Christmas love can do many things — but it can’t always cover the cracks in storytelling, and A New York Christmas Wedding has some pretty egregious, if not outright offensive, ones. The chemistry between the leads aside, this is not a film that’s well acted — and it’s better you know that going in. It’s definitely made on a shoestring budget with the kind of off-kilter camera angles that will take you back to the early 2000s. That will be a turn off for some people, and was almost certainly a turn off for me. There’s an utterly unnecessary political plot swerve towards a woman’s right to choose in the third act (a friend’s wife called it “gay Christian propaganda” and while I wouldn’t personally go that far, I also… well, you know).

I love good indie queer art. I think sometimes we unfairly chide it, and I certainly don’t think we need lots of money to tell our stories well. We can point to queer and trans creators like Jen Richards, Tourmaline, Zackary Drucker, Fatimah Asghar, or Patrik Ian Polk, among so many others, to see that our stories can be lovingly crafted and told with heart and enthusiasm, no matter the genre, even with only pennies-to-the-dollar. I absolutely don’t judge that Otoja Abit didn’t have more money to tell this story — but damn, I wish he would have taken more time with the script to tell it well.

What’s most unfair is that A New York Christmas Wedding is an early career, low budget, production of a filmmaker with tremendous room to grow, and it has recently been shoved onto a much larger and unfair playing ground because it just so happened to get released at the same time as a better-funded star vehicle from Kristen Stewart and Clea DuVall, in what’s being heralded as the first major production (white) lesbian Christmas rom-com in history. I don’t have any strong opinion about Happiest Season, but I echo the need to see Christmas love stories, and in particular queer Christmas love stories, that reflect the actual diversity of our queer communities, you know? We deserve that.

I really wanted A New York Christmas Wedding to be better than what it is. But ultimately, Christmas movies like this aren’t about being good — this is a genre that’s defined by cheese. It’s about that gooey warm feeling, deep in the pit of your stomach. It’s about heart flutters and snow falling and itchy sweaters and sparkling red dresses and cute dogs and being in love through it all. If you’re able to overlook its flaws, A New York Christmas Wedding will still somehow provide that. And if you don’t like corny Christmas movies for the face value of what they are… that’s between you and the lump of coal in your stocking.

Carmen is Autostraddle's Deputy Editor and a black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 247 articles for us.

31 Comments

  1. I’m a little bummed to hear that there are some major flaws in this film, because the plot interests me SO much more than that KStew movie. Give me all the time-bendy magical realism! I’m still going to watch both of them though, of course. Thanks for the review!

  2. I really wanted to like this movie. The “plot swerve” as you called it was just too much for me. I thought they were going to take it in an even worse direction, but it was still just so unnecessary and bad. That said, the chemistry between the younger actors was great and I would absolutely watch that movie.

  3. In my house, we are usually “Christmas Begins The Day After Thanksgiving” people.

    No Christmas movies or music before the Thanksgiving holiday. We scowl every time we drive past our local grocery store with the Christmas trees already out. I steer myself away from the grocery store temptations of egg nog and Christmas cookies.

    We wait until Thanksgiving. We get all the Christmas lists from my cadre of nieces and nephews and then scour Black Friday ads for deals…it’s when Christmas actually begins.

    But this year? What is time even?

    We’ve watched Christmas movies already and the only reason I haven’t had my first glass of overly sweetened eggnog for the season yet is because I forget to order it when I do my grocery pick-up.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to adding this movie to the long list of ways 2020 has turned the world upside down. Maybe I’ll enjoy it this weekend with some coquito.

    • I’m a Christmas begins after Halloween kind of person, so I was excited to see this movie. It wasn’t my favorite, but I would watch it again for the warm, tingly queer love feels it gave me. I’ll just fast forward through some of the meh-ish actng at the beginning.

  4. “If you’ve ever been a teenage girl who was madly in love with her best friend — which, if you’re reading this review on this website, the odds are pretty high that you know exactly what I’m talking about…”
    “When have you ever in your life, and I truly do mean ever, seen a gay Christmas love story with a woman of color lead? … the answer is you haven’t”

    I love this, I love that so much is given to us, and that this is only the beginning. I know we need more, and better, and that QPOC need to be better served by the entertainment industry (as well as by every other institution). But if I could have believed this watching Brokeback Mountain in 2005, Avenue Q in 2006, or The Princess and the Frog in 2009… I thought all we’d ever get would be one-off WOC leads, one-off uncomfortable gay male dramas, no queer women, no queer women of colour, let alone queer women of colour experiencing love, joy, Christmas, angels, dare I say it… a happy ending? Maybe 2020 will end with a Christmas miracle and cinema will start to become truly inclusive. Idk, despite everything, I feel optimistic right now! Thank you, Carmen, for this lovely review. Merry Christmas.

  5. ***SPOILERS AHEAD***

    Uhhhh how did you not mention the EPIC scene of Jennifer punching gross Vinny in the face???

    You’re right about the movie having some obvious flaws, due to being low budget. I still think it’s completely PERFECT! The love story, the family vibes, the dog, the diversity of New York, the unity of church and LGBTQ. I’m not Christian, but I can see how that might resonate with others who are. Can’t believe we had to wait until the year of 2020 to get a heartwarming lesbian Christmas movie! Further proof that gays just do it BETTER.

    Literally the only Christmas movie that fucking MATTERS! I would be this excited about Happiest Season…but I’m not particularly a fan of Kristin Stewart.

    Thanks for writing this wonderful review!

  6. the cute romantic scenes with Jenny and gabby were cute and perfect and fluffy. Wished the movie was just about them and watching them plan a Christmas new York wedding.
    (SPOILER WARNING)But the plot about going back in time and seeing people who are dead in the current universe, kind of just made me sad. Then the ending where she just got to start back her life as a teen, confused me. Like does she remember everything that just happened? I just wish it was a cute rom-com about the stress and a wedding without the plot-twisty time travely stuff. Loved the review though! I totally agree seeing gay POC is amazing!! As a gay brown girl I was beyond thrilled with their wedding reception scene (before all the craziness happened)

  7. I FINALLY watched this last night, and aside from everything going on with that angel/”plot twist”/complete disregard for angelology, I completely loved it. It’s a classic, cheesy Christmas movie that was 100% worth my time. I thought of this review the entire time, and have to say thank you, Carmen, for writing that made the experience of watching that movie so much richer than it would have been without this piece.

  8. Awww, I would like to watch both Happiest Season and A New York Christmas Wedding!! Anybody ideas if/how this will be possible in Europe?! Do movies still come out on DVD? The internet talked about some complicated workarounds, alas this is not for me.

    • Yes. You can hire Happiest Season, and stream this film on Netflix. We watched HS first, which I recommend. This one is happier and nicer, but it’s a B movie made in 14 days and it shows. But. Luckily, being a lesbian of the early thousands, we’re used to B movies, right? It’s all about the message!

  9. There was a lot to like but, when it comes to *said plot twist* I’m honestly just confused. Did this movie come out pro-legislating a woman’s reproduction or pro-choice? Does the movie even know it’s stance? Like. Too confusing to offend, I guess, but if someone else can make a coherent argument, I’m genuinely baffled and curious.

  10. This movie was a real ride, and maybe not one I’ll ever need to revisit tbh…so much going on here, ya know? I so appreciate you noting that Chris Noth is friends with the writer/director and worked on the film, Carmen. I was curious about why Big was here and so heavily featured, but not enough to research it myself.

    Overall, it wasn’t for me, but I would absolutely love to see this movie inspire (or provoke) more holiday romcoms with queer people of color so that I can enjoy seasonal movies without having to pout about how poorly lit all the supportive Black best friends/other blextras are to keep the leads from looking like actual ghosts.

  11. THANK YOU CARMEN!! I don’t know if I would have learned about this movie without you! I’m so glad I watched it. And I hope they get funding to make the romcom about Jenny and Gabby having a great romance and where the big conflict is like, whether to go on a honeymoon or get a car, and then a guardian angel gives them a free trip wherever they want so they can have BOTH or something like that! I am super impressed with the whole effort around the church in this movie, but I really really want us to have movies that are beyond homophobia. (I’m really not excited about happiest season lol). I cried a lot.

  12. I don’t disagree that this movie was not the best written or the best acted. But, let’s keep in mind this is a Christmas movie and compare it to other movies of the genre. For example, my boo made me watch Princess Switch last year. That movie was terrible in every way. There was nothing redeeming about it. But it was one of the most streamed Netflix movies in December because Christmas. Compared to that nonsense, this movie was phenomenal.

  13. I wanted to love this so much but there was too much bad. Maybe if it had been more light hearted and cheesy, less dreary. I very much disagree that Gabby and Jenny had any chemistry as adults, unfortunately. They just always seemed to be fighting! Why!? And the church subplot did not seem to serve the film at all. That weird scene with the outing of all the queer people in the church?? Again, why?! It didn’t even have fun Christmas music!! Anyway, thanks for your review, I do agree that we deserve content like this, I just want it to be less perplexing and better acted.

  14. Just a reminder that movies don’t have to have budgets to be well written, acted, and directed. And there are plenty of big budget films with bad writing. There are SO MANY queer poc content creators making amazing well written work with stories that actually make emotional sense. But theirs aren’t on Netflix Bc they aren’t executive produced by a straight cis white man- chris noth. Also why does no one have a problem with his white saviorism??? It’s so offensive!

    • Watched this the day after watching Happiest Season, and this movie had the better message! It actually felt like a movie you could feel inspired and hopeful and warm and fuzzy about after watching, unlike Happiest Season, which imho has a terrible message and is not uplifting in any way, which is the whole point of a Christmas movie.
      This movie’s happy ending actually felt nice-was the journey there a bit rough? Absolutely, but it’s still better than Happiest Season and I’m so glad you wrote this review!

  15. I wanted to like this, I love Xmas films, I love queer indie films, so this should have been my sweet spot! But it was bad, and not in the fun, crap way like the other Netflix fare. I don’t know if it’s because it’s 2020 and I crave lighthearted fare, but this film felt miserable. Poorly written, poorly acted, and the centring of a white Christian man felt bizarre and unrealistic. I don’t believe for a second that these two women wouldn’t have gone to a queer-friendly church years ago. Why stay with a church that doens’t support you for 20 (!!!) years.

    There was no sense of their life together, their community, their relationship as adults. Why should the audience care about them being together? Why should their wedding resonate with us? Also, why was Jenny trying to marry some dude she seemed to feel revolted by, what would have brought them together in the first place? There was no sense of conflict at all. It just felt unfinished, as if they didn’t really know what to do with the plot. The entire film just felt strange and unsatisfying, like a poorly written fanfic. II would happily watch a film about two queer teens trying to find themselves and carve out a relationship around the holidays, or a film about two adults trying to jumpstart their relationship now that they’re secure in their identities, with Christmas at the centre of it, but this was an uncharming slog. And I say this after watching the Knight Before Christmas *and* The Christmas Chronicles.

  16. Great review! I watched the film and it’s wayyyy better than Happiest Season for all your reasons and more. For those of us who are old enough to remember Wolfe video films or suffering sad foreign films with subtitles, this is a breath of fresh air! Not to mention I’d rather see some “flawed” magical realism with a fun happy ending, rather than yet another story about being fearful of coming out of the closet, getting rejected by family, only to have their approval by movie end. Also the women in this film are way hotter, and having more fun.

  17. I have watched so many not great underfunded poorly acted white straight Christmas movies for the gooey feel and joy of watching an entertainingly bad film. If I can have all that plus queerness and no whitewashing, sign me up!

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