How To Ruin Christmas: The Wedding spoilers follow - including its ending.
Tumi is a train wreck. She's friendless and abhors romantic love, thinks mostly of herself, and when she catches a flight to Johannesburg to be at her sister's wedding before Christmas, everything she touches combusts into a confetti of disasters.
How To Ruin Christmas: The Wedding, a South African three-part holiday special which arrived on Netflix on Wednesday (December 16), feels aptly named following Tumi's misadventures, her jaded voice creeping into scenes to register annoyance, boredom, or poke fun.
Played by South African actress Busi Lurayi, viewers are introduced to Tumi's middle class family The Sellos, staying in the same gilded, sprawling hotel as their wealthy in-laws The Twalas, whose patriarch works in the South African government and wants the wedding to be media-perfect.
Tumi is pleased to be reunited with her sister Beauty (Thando Thabethe) who is getting married to Sbu (Sandile Mahlangu), even more pleased to be her maid of honour but arriving late at dress fittings and forgetting to bring towels for the gift giving ceremony sets the tone for her blunders. Tumi's family is keenly aware of her tendency to topple the peaceful order of things, thus making Beauty's wedding susceptible to crash.
But theirs is already a fractured relationship. Tumi's mother was pregnant with her at 17 and abandoned her with Tumi's grandmother to raise. In Tumi's eyes, her grandmother became her mother and her mother an estranged aunt. This produces some level of bile in their relations, and although Tumi has been away from the family for years, conversations knot into awkwardness and each member is more concerned with surviving the whirlwind of a three-day wedding.
How To Ruin Christmas cuts into the human fabric of finding lost connections. Beauty wants a perfect wedding, and that means wanting her estranged father walk her down the aisle and recruiting Tumi to help her with the search. "He left you before you took your first steps," Tumi is unmoved, both of them squeezed in their dress tryouts, "You are about to cement yourself as Mommy's favourite daughter and then marry the Black Prince Harry and I'm actually going to say something publicly at your reception. Do you really need more than that?"
But when Tumi follows her to their father's residence, he drops the bombshell: Tumi isn't his daughter. The revelation is the show's first emotional fireball, which Tumi absorbs nearly unscathed then unleashes towards her mother. It is then Tumi's turn to know who her real father is, which the show doesn't supply an answer to, perfectly setting it for a possible second season. But then, Tumi might have encountered her father without knowing...
In the last episode, she meets a fifty-something looking man at a bar who strikes a conversation with her that doesn't lead particularly anywhere. Perhaps this could mean something, and they could meet again in season two?
Beyond the psychology of family dynamics, the show unravels Tumi as an anti-heroine who not only abandons cultural chops of femininity but serves the grander themes of romantic love by being counter-romantic. "If I ever fall in love, shoot me," her background voice mocks the love-spun couple on her flight bound for Johannesburg.
Accompanying her to the wedding is her friend Khaya (Yonda Thomas), who she ditched right away after an intoxicating one-night stand some time ago, who everyone now assumes is her boyfriend. Romance is not a word in Tumi's vocabulary, and this anti-romance worldview enables her make observations about romance and its enduring syllabus. For example: asking Beauty why she must have her deadbeat father walk her down the aisle.
With the responsibility of giving a speech as Maid of Honour, Tumi platonically turns to Khaya to help her write one. Her speech, emotionally moving and seemingly sincere, would later put her into the orbit of romance with Khaya and scrubs her transgression of sleeping with the groom's brother which had infuriated him.
Whether she believes her own words is a different argument to make. Right there, she reconciles with Khaya against a background of nightly fireworks. But the tune changes when he reveals he has a confession to make, wrapping up the third and final episode abruptly.
Not much is known about Khaya's background, only that he has a wine collection and loves to dress up as Santa Claus to take gifts to children in orphanages. Whatever he's about to reveal could be potentially damaging to their relationship, a suitable agent that snuffs out the possibilities of concrete romance. The odds that he also slept with someone else are great.
Directed by the Ramaphakela siblings, who made their Netflix filmmaking debut with Seriously Single, How To Ruin Christmas is a kaleidoscope of the South African experience, showcasing a multicultural wedding between The Sellos (Tswana) and Twalas (Zulu) and with well-timed humour. Above all, its characters will be universally resonant to viewers, especially against the backdrop of Christmas.
Will the limited series be given a sequel, to provide some answers to the questions left behind? We'll just have to wait and see...
How To Ruin Christmas is available on Netflix.
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