In the spirit of “Love Actually” director Chazz Palminteri creates a holiday themed story that presents the basic formula of that film where we see a range of characters going about their own private turmoil’s and obstacles in life, whom all occasionally cross paths in the most ironic ways, as fate would have it. It’s pretty hard to find malice against a well-intentioned film like “Noel” that lacks any manipulation or melodrama and really has a sense of genuine emotions. It’s a low-key, and understandably obscure holiday film with a decent cast that has your basic Capra-esque heartfelt nuance of warmth, and love, and lack of love. It’s often very sad without being sappy, it’s fun without being meandering, and it’s truly entertaining in a way only a holiday film should.
The film deals with the different aspects of the holidays and without giving us cavities, the script observes the holidays ups and downs with a general warmth giving us a small surrounding of characters whom are having their own basic experiences. “Noel” is less about segments involving characters one by one and meshes every scenario together where it interconnects in to some occasionally warm sequences. Susan Sarandon gives a great performance here as Rose, a woman whose basically given up on life and love. The story with Sarandon is a sad one, because she’s such a miserable person, and in one instance upon meeting an old successful friend she makes up a very enthusiastic lie and we discover where she’s going. Sarandon’s is the story that holds the most emotional weight, as the rest deals with a sense of irrelevance in spite of the importance it boasts. She takes care of her beloved mother who is slowly dying from Alzheimer’s and she struggles to help her, while not realizing what good she’s doing to everyone else around her meanwhile.
Palminteri directs with much gusto here often with a light spirit, because “Noel” has a lot of energy; Palminteri directs the scenery with many bright vibrant exuberant colors and occasional dims for the characters and their situations that deal from the mundane to the magical. It wouldn’t be a Christmas film without magic, and Palminteri channels Capra pretty well. Paul Walker plays a New York cop who is having trouble with his girlfriend Nina (Penelope Cruz) and comes across a man (Alan Arkin) who has a mysterious connection with him. Surprisingly, Paul Walker does actually manage to pull in a semi-decent performance here as well as Penelope Cruz, and there’s even a small role from Robin Williams who is un-credited giving a great performance as a sublime suicidal man with a mysterious secret of his own.
Writer David Hubbard gives us some great dialogue along with constantly amusing and heartfelt sequences that really end up as being both entertaining and meaningful to what they’re attempting to convey in the spirit of Christmas. What “Noel” suffers from beyond everything else is that it’s much too derivative to be taken seriously. Palminteri composes the film as a sort of American “Love Actually” and not as good, with the whole conjoining sub-plots that occasionally intersect with one another, and there’s Sarandon early predicament with her plot of the whole older woman romancing a younger man while their relative is in a hospital is taken much from Laura Linney’s story from “Love Actually” which ended up being such a blatant take off from it. Meanwhile, “Noel” can never muster up enough heart to be considered a truly worthy feature film coming off as generic as a television movie played on the late late show of a network.
And it doesn’t help it’s cause when it stars two of the most annoying people in Hollywood star (Paul Walker, Penelope Cruz) and they’re pretty annoying characters here. It’s a shame David Hubbard could only must up their sub-plot from a basically vapid and utterly superficial theme that could never add up to the two other sub-plots that’s taken place during this. The two never have enough chemistry to be a believable couple, and their sub-plot has the least momentum, ruining what “Noel” could have been in the long run. It’s admittedly a Capra-esque sappy, and many times generic holiday offering, but in the end it’s utterly harmless in its presumptuous holiday spirit. It’s routine, but it manages to pull off the routine observations about sadness and love with decent performances, and very good writing. I had a very hard time displaying malice to this.