A theme that emerges if you watch enough angel films is that the presence of an angel in a film is usually an indicator that it’s not a good film. A New York Christmas Wedding is no exception – as Christina Cautericci writes, it’s a ‘wild, howlingly bad queer holiday movie for the ages‘. But what might seem at first like a bizarre and incoherent plot makes sense when we read the film as a Christmas angel film: that is, a film about family formation and love as the solution to social reproduction in crisis.
For A New York Christmas Wedding, the central threat to social reproduction arises from the protagonist’s failure to explore her attraction to her teenage best friend. As the film opens, we discover her negotiating wedding plans with her mean, rich, status-conscious soon-to-be-in-laws. We know that her heart isn’t in it which she objects, apparently on principle, to the idea of a Christmas wedding: there’s nothing more appropriate, in an angel film, than getting married at Christmas. It soon turns out that the real problem is not that she doesn’t want to get married at Christmas, but that she doesn’t want to get married to her fiance: she is still in mourning for her dead best friend. Fortunately an angel turns up to help her experience an alternative timeline in which she made different choices (another classic trope of both Christmas and angel films). In this timeline, she took the chance to tell her best friend that she loved her; and this honesty about her desire has ensured not only that she is in a relationship with someone she really loves, but also that the two of them are still churchgoers, that her alternate-reality fiance has already had children and – in case we really needed it hammering home that social reproduction is working better in this universe – somehow being true to her gay desire means that her dad didn’t die.
All of the apparently disparate components of the film come together to make narrative sense if we take it as a film which fundamentally seeks to position gay marriage as not only compatible with but necessary to the ongoing reproduction of the (Catholic) family. If Jennifer fails to follow her gay heart then her dad will die; her best friend Gabby will not only get teenage pregnant but her baby will die stillborn, and Gabby will walk out into traffic; the local priest will be forced out of his parish and Jennifer will marry into wealth and so leave her community and her church. Angel films tend to see money and love as inherently in conflict and this film is no exception. It’s interesting that the mean rich family Jennifer nearly marries into is black, like her, positioning the all-black family on the side of failed social reproduction and interracial marriage as successful. If you’re really pro-life, the film suggests, then you’ll let gay people get married, not least because some of the unborn babies you’re trying to save are gay too. If you really care about the future of the Catholic church then you’ll recognise that the real message of Christmas is one of welcome and inclusion. What’s interesting and original about the film is that it ties the successful reproduction of the church to its ability to adapt to the changing requirements of social reproduction. While the lesson that Jennifer learns is the classic Christmas angel film lesson that love must triumph, what the film is trying to do, I think, is to mobilise precisely those cliches to convince its intended Catholic audience that queer love can, and must, be incorporated into the family.