The Noel Diary is Netflix’s antidote to the super-saccharine rom-com Christmas movie. It’s full of soft, sad piano and longing, stolen looks; it’s a perfect Christmas movie in that regard.
Like everything else to do with this “most beautiful time of the year”, it is also going well for our protagonist Jacob Turner (This is us‘ Justin Hartley), a famous heartthrob novelist whose one true love is his dog Ava. He learns of his mother’s death through a call from a lawyer, and we learn of her estrangement as he weaves his way through the neatest hamster house we’ve ever seen.
Enter Rachel (Barrett Doss): beautiful, fluent in several languages, open and honest. She hopes he can help her find her birth mother, who was once the nanny to Jacob and his brother, who tragically died when he was just 7 years old. They embark on a journey of self-discovery, healing trauma and eventually learning to embrace life.
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It speaks to the star power of the two leads that they invest themselves in their relationship and their travels against the clichéd backdrop. Of course, there’s an element of mystery in the film that drives the plot—there are literal questions that get literal answers—but despite the hackneyed sexpot author jokes, Jacob is cute and Rachel serious, she’s instantly likeable.
The Noel Diary borrows all the trappings of its genre — like the blizzard that forces our couple into a B’n’B (albeit in two rooms, giving the film its best self-conscious moment) — and you’ll surely enjoy the film dictated by yours Tolerance to this type of frame and associated gilding. (However, most people who are interested in this type of film will probably be aware of the strict rules that a cheesy Christmas film has to abide by.)
Happily, The Noel Diary is not loaded with subplots and subplots that spoil and overload the narrative. We get a glimpse into the life of Jacob’s neighbor Ellie (the ever-gorgeous Bonnie Bedelia), but that’s about it. There’s no best friend/assistant, and even Rachel’s peripherals (we won’t spoil it) make brief enough appearances that you’re not overly bothered by their lack of poise.
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The film rests squarely on the shoulders of Hartley and Doss and the two of them as they must do a valiant job of keeping the lard of it all from getting in the way of their jobs. Both have some “trauma” to work through from Capital I Important, but neither the melodrama of it (nor the sometimes cheesy writing of it) lets them down.
Somehow both rolls are lively – they are reminiscent of a chocolate souffle, tender and fluffy but full of flavor and richness. The film also doesn’t take overly manipulative shortcuts, namely they don’t kill the dog (thank goodness, because as soon as that dog showed up, there was an innate fear that he would die to snatch tears from viewers, but we feel safe about it Spoil yourself that Ava lives a long happy life!).
All in all, if you’re looking for a well-acted, if a bit boring, Christmas movie to get you in the mood, The Noel Diary is it.
The Noel Diary is now available on Netflix.