Lionsgate's straight-to-DVD release, A Wonderful Christmas: Feliz Navidad, starring big name Puerto Rican radio and TV stars Luis Jimenez and Giselle Blondet, is an innocuous, agreeable little Christmas programmer from 2006 that certainly won't win any awards for originality, but which passes the time amiably, and provides a message or two along the way that won't hurt kids who bother to pick up on them. Shot cheaply (and I would assumed quickly) on HiDef video in what looks to be someone's apartment, A Wonderful Christmas: Feliz Navidad doesn't have the production values of most of your typical holiday confections, but it has a lot of heart, and that may be just enough to get it by.
Harried Bronx building super Martin Rivera (Luis Jimenez) has a lot on his plate. Since his building hired a new, obnoxious apartment manager, Martin has been on the receiving end of frequent threats to can him, if he doesn't step up the repairs for the complaining tenants. His wife, Luz (Giselle Blondet), is pregnant and perhaps just a tad oversensitive about her weight. His son Junior (Reymond Wittman) wants to eat anything he can put in his mouth (including buffalo snow at the local Christmas tree shop). And his sweet daughter Josie (Jatnna Toribio) wants nothing more than to have a doll of her favorite TV action hero, Star Wonder (Mariana Seonane). The only problems are, Luz thinks Star Wonder is "dirty" (because of her revealing costume, which Martin never fails to admire on her television show), and the doll costs over a hundred dollars - something that's way out of reach for the struggling Riveras.
Martin, obsessed with winning the lotto (he has a shrine devoted to it in the kitchen), is further stressed when he injures his ankle (trying to grab a discount Christmas tree away from another buyer), effectively stopping him from doing his job, resulting in no money for Christmas. Playing the "bootleg" lotto at the suggestion of homeless guy Bobby Bootleg (Agustin, the film's co-director, along with Michael Baez), Martin miraculously wins an ice cream truck - which doesn't do him a lot of good in the winter time. An impending visit from his wife's relatives for Christmas dinner doesn't sit well with him, either, particularly since there's no money for a big spread. Will Santa come through for the Riveras, and save their Christmas?
Quite a few plot elements in A Wonderful Christmas: Feliz Navidad are woefully underdeveloped or outright ignored, giving the film a catch-as-catch-can design that often puzzles the viewer with dangling plot threads. If the film sets up Martin as being on the cusp of getting canned by the mean Ivan, shouldn't there be a least one scene in the second half of the film, showing Martin puzzled or at least aware of the fact that the maintenance jobs are still getting done (his daughter, Josie, has been fixing things up around the building on the sly, to save up tips to buy her doll)? And if Martin really won that huge, gleaming ice cream truck (or is it just something Bootleg Bobby stole? The film doesn't make that clear at all), why doesn't he just sell it? A big plot point revolves around the Riveras annual Christmas tree purchase, but the scene takes place at a store that sells artificial trees. Wouldn't they still have the same one they purchased years ago? Continuity and an integrated script are not A Wonderful Christmas: Feliz Navidad's strong points.
That being said, there is a nicely realized, grounded reality to A Wonderful Christmas: Feliz Navidad that I found a welcome respite from the usual Christmas fare. Unlike so many holiday films where money - certainly a major factor and consideration for most families come Christmastime, right or wrong as that may be - is never a factor in the plot, A Wonderful Christmas: Feliz Navidad's Rivera family is feeling the pinch. They're a hard-working, industrious family (frequently, in Josie's narration that guides the film, the message of hard, honest work being necessary for everyone is firmly put forth), and yet things won't be easy for them this Christmas. The film is quite good at creating a picture of a family that despite any financial uncertainties, is secure enough in its love for each other that it won't really matter what is or isn't under the tree come Christmas morning. That's a nice message for a change in a holiday film.
I'm not sure all the comedy bits work in A Wonderful Christmas: Feliz Navidad, though. There's an unnecessary dirty joke involving one of Santa's elves and barely dressed Mrs. Claus that really stands out as inappropriate for this kind of film (as well as a couple of equally unnecessary toilet jokes), and quite a few times, the filmmakers rely solely on Jimenez's mugging to get across some undernourished and ill-timed gags. But there are quite a few undeniably funny spots in A Wonderful Christmas: Feliz Navidad that keep the viewers' good will. Blondet and Jimenez work well together, and she's quite funny as the mood-swinging mother (when it's time for her to go to the hospital, the film gets its biggest laughs when she screams at Martin, "Don't touch me so much!" out of sheer frustration and insanity, while giving the Vulcan nerve pinch to Junior who keeps asking for more food). And Jimenez does have an ingratiating, good-guy appeal here (I understand his top-rated radio show is substantially more raunchy) that works well with his obvious energy. A Wonderful Christmas: Feliz Navidad certainly isn't original, but the performers are willing, and the message - be grateful for what you have, and celebrate the love of your family while you work hard to get ahead - is right on target for the holidays.
The anamorphically enhanced, 1.78:1 widescreen video image for A Wonderful Christmas: Feliz Navidad is only okay; shot on video, blurring is apparent anytime there's substantial movement, creating a soft picture overall, and the colors seem a tad washed out.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 stereo mix is more than adequate for this kind of feature. All the dialogue is clear (although I wish they had stuck to one language for the film: either all English or all Spanish. Once I got used to reading the subtitles, then English came up, and vice-versa). Close-captioning is available.
Some deleted scenes are included, but they add little to the film.
Heartfelt but not exactly original, A Wonderful Christmas: Feliz Navidad suffers from an underdeveloped, choppy script, but the energy and charm of the performers carries over this agreeable little holiday programmer, and the message is spot-on for Christmas. I recommend A Wonderful Christmas: Feliz Navidad.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.