On the Seventh Day of Christmas… “Noel”

[…Day 7 of the 12 Days of Christmas review project…]
Noel DVD cover

Director: Chazz Palminteri
Writers: David Hubbard
Producers: Bart Rosenblatt, Howard Rosenman, Eugene Musso, Al Corley
Starring: Susan Sarandon, Penelope Cruz, Paul Walker, Alan Arkin, Robin Williams, Marcus Thomas, Sonny Marinelli
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 96 min
Year of Release: 2004

Penny Cruz in NoelAlright I admit it. I picked up this movie for one reason and one reason only: Penelope Cruz is on the cover… looking very fine. But when I popped it in and started paying attention to the opening credits I realized, “there’s quite a decent cast of well known actors for this little known film.” Then the director credit: Chazz Palminteri. His directorial debut? Apparently, according to the IMDb. So I get a great character actor’s directorial debut and Penelope Cruz salsa dancing wearing very little to start the film. What could go wrong? Clark W. Griswold said that once too.

This is one of those multiple story line films that you think will intertwine somehow by the end. With Noel, the stories do meet up at one point, but it’s of little consequence and almost coincidental. It was two completely different stories running parallel encapsulated within 90 minutes. There’s not much depth here though so while admittedly not too hard to put together, Palminteri has structured the two stories surprisingly well. Susan Sarandon plays a lonely woman on Christmas Eve forced to take care of her dying mother and generally hating Christmas, but goes about her day as chipper as possible. Paul Walker plays Penelope Cruz’ fiancee who nearly loses her when his anger takes over with his misplaced jealousy. Meanwhile, a strange old man (Alan Arkin) claims that Walker is the re-incarnated soul of his dead wife. Tough guy Walker doesn’t take to this news very kindly.

This is really Sarandon’s film as she garners most of the screen time. Though she appears to be sleepwalking through the entire picture, it’s still Sarandon; Susan Sarandon in Noelso even a half hearted effort is still pretty decent. Everyone else is just kind of there serving their purpose. Nothing bad but nothing overly spectacular either. Just a bunch of A-listers seemingly just fulfilling a favor to someone.

The evolution of the characters is what is interesting here, but the emotional output is minimal so it was difficult for me to get very misty eyed – which was clearly the film’s intent. In fact, by the end of the movie I was so immersed in the overt melodrama that I wanted to roll my eyes. Still, there’s something sweet here that I sort of got into for some reason. Even if it does feel like somewhat of a prime time, network, holiday special from the mid-90’s.

In the end, the ridiculousness of the way things turn out and the little surprise revelations were too much for me nothing seemed to gel very well with the rest of the picture. It’s unrestrained and takes every little thing just over the edge of believability and it seemed like it was trying way too hard to invade my personal psyche. It almost works as I sat on the edge of the fence and then knocked me over with just a touch of too much sentimentality.

Paul Walker in Noel

Again though, the fairly large cast of recognizable faces and watching a first time director weave his craft was enough to keep me interested. And I can admit that here and there throughout the picture I was sort of on board. It’s the time of year when one is supposed to believe in miracles and angels and happiness prevailing over everything else. And in some small way, this picture did give me something to smile about. It was heartening and sweet but just a little overdone with the charm. If this review were limited to one sentence review, it would be: “It was nice.”

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