Noel (2004)

Noel (2004)
  • Time: 96 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Chazz Palminteri
  • Cast: Susan Sarandon, Penélope Cruz, Paul Walker, Alan Arkin


Christmas Eve in New York, and the lonely divorced publisher, Rose Collins, needs a miracle to improve the health of her mother, interned in a hospital with Alzheimers. She feels sorry for another patient and meets his visitor. Meanwhile, Nina Vasquez breaks her engagement with her beloved fiancé Mike due to his suffocating jealousy, but misses him. Mike is stalked by a stranger, bartender Artie Venzuela. The poor Jules arranges to spend Christmas Eve in the hospital, where he spent the best Christmas of his life when he was a teenager. The lives of some of these characters cross with others along the night.

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  • During the holidays, Christmas is thought to many of being the most enjoyable time of year. Rightfully so. With all the bouncy and energetic music, it’s difficult not to feel like there’s something to be happy about. Then again, not everyone will be as happy as others will and that’s understandable too. Not everything goes well during Christmas. All kinds of unfortunate and crappy things go down that remind people every year why the holidays stink (according to them). When telling a story there’s nothing wrong with telling either end of the mood, but it would seem slightly more difficult for the negative view point because of how the season is perceived overall. Sadly the creators behind this film rather missed the point. It does have areas that endear to make sure the viewer watching the film tries to feel something, but as to what that is, is another story. Directed by Chazz Palminteri (mostly known for acting) and written by David Hubbard (his only holiday film credit) lack the required expertise to make this film an effective watch.

    The script is set up like another ensemble cast picture where a number of character threads come together and influence each other. Susan Sarandon plays a middle-aged loner who only focuses on work and cares for her unresponsive mother. Paul Walker and Penélope Cruz play a couple looking to get married but struggle with their own trust. Lastly is Marcus Thomas playing a lazy bum looking to relive one moment of his childhood for another year. All of these stories take place during Christmas Eve of where each main thread receives a special gift in some fashion. Of them, there are also appearances from Alan Arkin and Robin Williams. The stories sound okay but the way they’re executed flat out underplays its own premise. Most of the stories are schmaltzy (which is average) but it’s the wildly uneven tone that makes it hard to deal with. At first the story starts out normal to almost upbeat but then immediately drops to dreary and almost uncomfortably melancholy. Adding to that are the numerous contrived plot development moments that seem too convenient for its own good.

    It’s the mix of these problems that can make it difficult for audiences to connect with these characters. For a holiday film, it doesn’t focus much on it and its tone is too melodramatic to feel like one. Regrettably this is not the end of its issues either. Making it more frustrating is the editing handled by Susan E. Morse. Having more than enough experience to know what makes a film flow easy, the editing between scenes are choppy and feels rushed when following the individual stories. Yet somehow, the pacing feels more than 90 minutes. How does that work? Plus few to almost no characters have the smallest bit of charm to them. Of the actors, Robin Williams and Paul Walker show more emotion than the rest even with their underdeveloped roles. The rest of the cast struggles to show any likability because of how troubled their characters are required to be. Of all this, the entire screenplay itself has trouble conveying its overall message.

    Even the critically panned film Reach Me (2014) had characters with flaws and was able to make a positive moral statement out of it. There’s no real lesson a viewer can take away from this other than “miracles happen”. Whenever that is. That’s not to say the concept doesn’t exist but the majority of viewers will already know this. Visually, the camerawork is appropriate. Russell Carpenter was head of cinematography for this feature. Although his work wasn’t anything to note of in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Death Warrant (1990), he did prove himself later with James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) and Charlie’s Angels (2000). Here it’s about the same. All scenes are well lit and look aesthetically appealing. The musical score provided by Alan Menken thankfully was another plus. For although the actual tone presented on screen fluctuates between appropriate to overly downbeat, Menken’s work tries endlessly to make the viewer feel something.

    Working on films in the past like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995) and Hercules (1997), which are films that have balanced emotions throughout their story should be proof enough that he knows how to work music. Even after wrapping up, the score continues to try and get someone’s emotions stirring and by that it’s not desperately doing it. It literally felt like there was something to care about but there wasn’t. The sound itself is created through a series of strings mixed with choral progressions and piano cues to help give it that seasonal Christmas touch. This is not enough to save it though, there just isn’t an adequate mixture of components to help make this collaborative work feel like a whole. Maybe a holiday film wasn’t what they were aiming for but when your film’s title says a Christmas related name on it, people will think “holiday movie”.

    It’s an ensemble cast movie that wastes its given talent with a script filled with unnecessary twists, all-too convenient character development to feel anywhere relatable and an uneven tone to match anything close to the holiday spirit. Even though they show the most emotion not even Paul Walker and Robin Williams can help the script. The camerawork and music also do their job right but feel a bit late to be fixing anything.

    Points Earned –> 4:10

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