This Queer film review is part of my “Queer Holiday Film Reviews for 2020” post.
From the synopsis, it’s hard to imagine how the plot to “24 Nights” would be an enjoyable Queer Christmas film. But don’t worry! Despite however awkward and naive Jonathan comes across, there’s something a magical and romantic about how this twisted romance unfolds. While it starts off a bit slow, keep pushing through and I have a feeling that by the end, you’ll love this quirky Queer Christmas Film just as much as I do! Let me break it down why.
Synopsis of “24 Nights”
Starting with a young Jonathan (Kevin Isola) out shopping with his mother and older sister, his mom tells him that he can whatever he wants so long as he’s good and believes. Skipping ahead twenty years to the present, Jonathan is writing a letter to Santa – he’s asking Santa to send him his dream man! But upon returning back to his sister’s apartment, where he is currently living after his burned down, his older sister Marie (Aida Turturro), chides him for still sending letters to not only Santa but to their deceased parents. But he throws back, “If you can believe in God, then I can believe in Santa – we’ll see who’s the crazy one!” At Thanksgiving dinner, it’s the usual family debacle with mother-in-law Lillian (Mary Louise Wilson) getting on Marie’s nerves. But the excitement starts the following day at work on December 1, 24 days before Christmas. Jonathan is gossiping with coworker, James (Mark Bateman), about how Santa will send him the man that he’ll marry – James says he’s delusional! But then in walks Toby (David Burtka), obviously gay and new to NYC, asking about a job. Jonathan just stares awkwardly at Toby, later whispering to James that that’s him! Of course Toby gets hired, but Jonathan fudges training Toby on the register so bad that Toby actually thinks Jonathan is learning disabled! Skipping to Dec 6, Jonathan is listening to his headphones at work when a different attractive guy walks up asking for Toby – it’s Toby’s boyfriend, Keith (Stephen Mailer)! Naturally, Jonathan is upset but rather than console him, his coworkers just laugh because they don’t believe Jonathan’s fantasy. It turns out that Keith is going to school in the city in order to stay together with Toby, but they have their first fight that night as Keith doesn’t think much about Toby’s coworkers.
A few days later, Toby is eating a sandwich while Jonathan creepily watches him. He finally admits to Toby that Toby was sent to him because of destiny. But rather than pushing Jonathan away again, Toby seems to be flirting back. The following day they’re standing outside Toby’s apartment after hanging out, when Toby asks if Jonathan meant what he said the other day about destiny. They lean forward, about to kiss…. when the door opens and Keith’s arm yanks Toby inside! We’re now up to Dec 11, and it’s decorating day at Marie & Jonathan’s apartment. Jonathan invited Toby and is telling everyone to behave. Except it’s not just Toby at the door – but Keith as well! Dejected, they focus on decorating the tree but after a fight over the Christmas tree topper, both Keith and Toby leave. But Toby returns shortly after, to ask if he can come back something – alone. Oh? But Keith is not going to stand back and let Jonathan steal Toby away from him. A few days later, Dec 13, Keith stops by Jonathan’s apartment and warns him to lay off Toby. But when Marie and her husband suddenly arrive home, Marie insists that Keith stay for dinner – even though neither Keith nor Jonathan want that. Naturally, Marie tells Keith embarrassing stories when Jonathan was a boy. When she skips off to the kitchen for coffee, Jonathan follows and yells at her that he likes “the other one!” Meanwhile, Keith has wandered into Jonathan’s room. Jonathan apologises for his sister, when Keith acknowledges that she did do a good job before they bond over both of them losing their parents at a young age. Keith actually admits he feels stupid now for being jealous. “I didn’t want to you like”, he says to Jonathan before also spilling that Toby thinks he’s learning disabled! Before he goes though, Keith asks Jonathan to not go out with Toby, though Jonathan notes that he still probably will.
As the days progress, the drama also continues. Jonathan ends up in an accident and injured, but tries having phone sex with Toby (which Marie overhears!) Jonathan escapes to his coworker Sarah’s (Sybyl Walker) apartment where he cuts his foot and ends up oversleeping his “date” with Toby. Turns out that Toby ended up going out to the bar with James – and Toby won the wet underwear contest! But Keith is pissed, packs up his bag and leaves their shared apartment – and ends up at Jonathan’s where Marie tells him he can stay for a few days. Now Dec 17, Jonathan apologises for standing Toby up at the bar, while Toby admits he wishes he were the one staying at Jonathan’s and not Keith! They finally kiss. Meanwhile, Keith is having dinner with Marie and her husband, Stan, where Keith asks about the ring Marie is wearing. When Jonathan comes back home, Keith asks if he can hang out with him – Ok, but you have to do everything I say or you can’t stay. So they get stoned and bond a bit further. Keith admits how he knew he loved Toby, and the extremes Keith went to before finally having the courage to say hi. Suddenly, Keith kisses Jonathan – but pulls away quickly confused because he doesn’t know who he wants anymore. A few days later on Dec 20, they’re all out in the street looking for Stan’s (Robert T. Bogue) new billboard (he’s an underwear model), when Jonathan thinks he sees their mom and goes chasing after her! Turns out it’s not his mother, but the woman shares a tender motherly moment as they bond over a love of Santa – right in front of the store’s Santa display.
The following day, Keith returns to Toby’s apartment and they acknowledge that they no longer the right guy for each other, and they’re both ok with that. When Jonathan arrives home later that day, he follows a trail of candy canes into his room where Keith is waiting for him with gifts. Turns out Keith collected some photos Marie had saved of Jonathan’s parents, including a video when his mother took him to see Santa. Keith admits that he’s in love with Jonathan, and that he thinks Jonathan loves him back. But Jonathan thinks it’s still Toby – even though Keith, who knows about the letter to Santa, asks Jonathan what if the guy Santa sent him is actually Keith? Jonathan asks him to leave, as does Marie because unfortunately they have relatives coming over for Christmas and no longer have the extra space. While Marie & Stan head out of town to pick up family, Jonathan has a 45 poker game – with Toby and Keith playing as well. Things are a bit tense, but it’s Toby who’s the lucky one invited back to Jonathan’s room that night. Jonathan finally gets the man Santa sent him… or did he? Despite having sex, Jonathan still isn’t quite happy. The next morning, Marie and everyone return to find Toby in just his underwear. Stan is ready to finally kick out Jonathan when who shows up? Keith, to return the apartment key they lent him. Everyone is a bit confused at the situation, but it’s Marie who slaps Jonathan and tells him, “THIS is the guy who’s in love with you” while pointing to Keith. Turns out she’s been pushing the two of them together. Toby leaves, upset that he was the one left out – but Jonathan wants nothing to do with Keith; Keith leaves. Later on, Marie tries to console Jonathan and sings him the carol she used to sing to him as a kid.
Christmas Day. But Jonathan isn’t happy and ends up at his favourite diner – and spies Keith sitting at the bar. They end up having a lover’s spat when a guy wearing a Santa outfit interrupts them, offering to help out in the spirit of Christmas, but quickly before his eggs get cold! Keith tells his side of the story, revealing that he’s in love with Jonathan and the guy that Jonathan wrote to Santa asking about. Jonathan admits he still writes to Santa, but Toby was the guy who was sent for him – not Keith. “Santa” (Gerry Vichi) interjects, “Sometimes what you really want just falls in you lap. But if you don’t grab it, you lose it.” before asking if Jonathan loves Keith. “Yeah”, Jonathan reluctantly admits. He asks Keith the same, and Keith admits to loving Jonathan back. Santa gives them both candy canes and pushes them together – before going back to his breakfast. Jonathan and Keith share a kiss across the booth. While the credits roll, Jonathan gives us a voiceover recap – his final letter to Santa, thanking him for sending him the guy he wanted, even though it turned out a bit different. Suddenly the Santa light falls down Jonathan’s head!
At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss “24 Nights” as a low-budget, independent film. But once you get past the first flashback and the initially off-putting naivety of Jonathan’s character, the true strength of this film shines through. Is it perfect? No – but given the independent aspect, I have to give that credence and include it within my reviews. Ok – I also LOVE this Queer Christmas Film so might be a tad biased… but hey, it is MY review! So let’s dive into why it’s so great: the memorable characters, the cute & whimsical plot, and best of all, the romantic twist at the end.
While some view the strong characterisations as cliche and a negative aspect, I respectfully disagree. Jonathan’s naivety shines through only because he is the stoner, “loser” college dropout who’s back again living with his sister. His sister, Marie, initially comes across as uncaring and always on Jonathan’s case because he still writes to Santa – and their long-dead parents. However, because their mother died when Jonathan was young, Maria actually raised him herself and truly wants whats best for Jonathan – even if he doesn’t see it that way. And let’s not forget the guy of his dreams: Toby. Toby is a bit difficult to take in at first, the young southern babe excited by the lights, clubs, and gays of the big city. Yet he’s also quite adorable and seems to be a perfect balance to Jonathan’s naivety. Just one problem – Toby already has a boyfriend, Keith! And Keith is the straight-acting, utter contrast to both Toby and Jonathan. In fact, it’s easy to see how Jonathan thinks he can steal Toby away from Keith; they don’t seem like a great match now that they’re both in the big city. And of course, the characters cannot come to life without a great cast. Most are unknown, or rather were unknown at the time. But that does not dismiss whether they have the talent to bring a character to life, under direction of a certain vision. In this, they add did a great job – even if we might not actually like their character.
But the best part of “24 Nights” is the quirky storyline, with the unexpected yet romantic twist at the end. Yes, I realise that at first it seems a bit foolish. After all, what young adult truly believes in Santa with such assertiveness as Jonathan, enough to ask Santa to send him the boyfriend he desires. (Ok, so a few of us might pray to various gods and hierarchal figures such as Santa for the same… I’m guilty!) When Toby suddenly enters the bookstore and inquires about a job, he just HAS to be for Jonathan, right? There’s quite a bit of situational comedy when we watch Jonathan realise that Toby already has a boyfriend – but rather than back down, he decides to steal him away! But even Toby doesn’t get the best first impression of Jonathan, growing over time. Ironically, Jonathan practically gets what he wants – except it also isn’t quite the same because while Jonathan was pining over Toby, Toby’s boyfriend Keith suddenly developed feelings for Jonathan. And of course, in the end who intervenes to help Jonathan and Keith resolve their issues – SANTA! It’s just the craziest, whimsical story you could imagine – I couldn’t stop laughing because the comedic lines just spat out with perfect sitcom style. Yet it’s equally adorable and cute to watch the mess unfold, a great example of how dramatic irony can be used comedically. Director/Writer Kieran Turner certainly has created a wonderful story that evokes the spirit of Christmas – with a gay couple at the helm; and nearly a decade before anyone else did the same.
As often the case with queer films that I enjoy immensely, there is very little that I didn’t enjoy about “24 Nights” – and they all deal with the cinematography. (And to be fair, I have to wonder if some of the issue is simply connected to my lower quality copy). The sound quality is not the greatest. But the worst part is the shaky camera work – it’s rather distracting. Another reviewer noted that the poor production quality is only during the flashback scenes – except, sadly that isn’t quite the case. Yet in the end, I think the best way to attribute the poorer cinematographic elements that resulted in losing half a point is that it’s an independent film. And I can’t fault the production crew for doing the best they could with such a drastic limitation.
Oddly enough, “24 Nights” still has not gained much of a following – and in a time when the queer community are crying out and applauding various “first” Queer Christmas Films, while utterly ignoring this Christmas gem from 1999. With memorable characters, an important lesson about family, and a young man’s naive drive towards finding his perfect man, “24 Nights” is deserving of more attention. Grab yourself a copy, and add this Queer Christmas film to your seasonal holiday film watch list. You’ll love it!