Vague Visages’ A New Orleans Noel review contains minor spoilers. Angela Tucker’s 2022 Lifetime movie features Keshia Knight Pulliam, Brad James and Patti LaBelle. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
A New Orleans Noel is one of the year’s best holiday movies. Filmmaker Angela Tucker fills her film with heart and soul, rather than relying on played-out tropes. The characters feel like real humans; the story beats link together beautifully through a thoughtful script. And perhaps most importantly, Tucker doesn’t overemphasize the New Orleans element, instead opting to accentuate why the city resonates with the Black protagonists.
Inspired by the late Loretta Harrison — the first Black woman to own a praline company in The Big Easy — A New Orleans Noel stars Keshia Knight Pulliam (The Cosby Show) as an architect named Grace Hill. Upon landing a renovation job for a local legend (musician Patti LaBelle as Loretta Brown), she discovers that her collegiate crush, Anthony Brown (Brad James, Outer Banks), is her client’s nephew. As the young architects collaborate together, they playfully argue about New Orleans traditions, aesthetics and Loretta’s famous pralines.
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Aside from a few stiff performances from supporting players, A New Orleans Noel features superb, nuanced acting. Pulliam — whose character remains traumatized by her parents’ deaths and doesn’t feel deserving of the Browns’ emotional support system — knows exactly how one’s body and mind reacts to a panic attack. On the flip side, James leans into Anthony’s quiet confidence and willingness to accept feedback from anyone within his community. The protagonists in this particular Christmas movie don’t bond because of their unique situation — which allows them to catch up while exploring the real New Orleans — but rather because they identify a mutual need to change their ways for the sake of emotional growth. Given A New Orleans Noel’s slight 85-minute runtime, there’s a remarkable amount of character depth.
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From act to act, Tucker incorporates lively reminders about the focal setting — music, food, historic landmarks — along with smart one-liners that complement that cultural flavor. Grace’s Jewish friend (Talisa Friedman in a breakout role as Alexis) reminds her that she’s not simply a “white woman.” Meanwhile, Anthony fails miserably when trying to perfect Loretta’s praline recipe. In a purely formulaic Christmas movie, Grace and Anthony would bond while baking together. And the director would feel the need to bombard the audience with cheesy Big Easy montages. In A New Orleans Noel, though, Tucker consistently circles back to the characters’ insecurities. Grace values traditions but doesn’t understand her true worth; Anthony is a modernist who struggles with grand gestures — a key aspect of romantic comedies. Tucker and co-writer Alys Murray wisely incorporate an adolescent character whose personality traits align with both of the protagonists.
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A New Orleans Noel doesn’t quite stick the landing, or rather the big kiss moment, but I’m sure the majority of Lifetime viewers won’t care. In these type of films, there’s always a bizarre or sudden character decision that doesn’t quite make sense, and that does indeed happen in Tucker’s film, even though she lays the appropriate groundwork to justify the dialogue. Years from now, A New Orleans Noel will likely be viewed as a breakout film for James and the aforementioned Friedman (who is an absolute scene-stealer with Julia Roberts-esque appeal). But if one looks closely, there’s much to appreciate about Pulliam’s lead performance and how Tucker sets up her tearjerker of a climax.
A New Orleans Noel premieres December 3, 2022 on Lifetime.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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