Noel

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Noel Movie Poster Image
Christmas tearjerker has mature themes, some sex.
  • PG
  • 2004
  • 96 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Holding on to the past keeps you from living your life as you're meant to; it's OK to let go. You touch people's lives in ways you can't imagine. Offers food for thought about the nature of love and the power of forgiveness. Iffy messages about staying with someone with a violent temper because true love is worth fighting for, that a single woman really needs to be with someone, and a woman who just accepts that men are going to stare at her and try to sleep with her.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The five central characters are all flawed in some ways, but they're basically good people struggling with weaknesses like jealousy, being unable to move on after past traumas, or not being able to forgive themselves. Rose especially models devoted care of her mother, who suffers from dementia; listening and offering advice; and reaching out to help others. Jules and Mike are negative models: Jules is willing to hurt himself so he can spend Christmas in the hospital, and Mike is jealous and has a violent temper. But they both learn, grow, and take steps to change.

Violence

A man pushes another into knocking over a Christmas tree; the victim says he has a split lip but no blood is visible. A man pushes an elderly man, who then collapses. A man says he breaks peoples' hands for money. A man kicks things and knocks them over in a rage. An emergency room shows lots of traumas and people in pain, but no gore or blood. People tell about past violence, like an abusive stepfather who eventually broke a kid's nose in three places, or a man who committed manslaughter during a jealous rage. A woman tells of how she gave birth on Christmas and the baby died the same day.

Sex

A couple are seen in bed; he's topless, she's wearing lingerie, sex is implied. A few kisses, including one close-up of a slow kiss. A woman dances in a very short slip; extensive shots of her buttocks show partial cheeks. A woman thinks she might be pregnant; she's shown buying a home test and waiting for results. A friend tells Rose she needs sex. A man makes sexual advances, the woman says she's uncomfortable, and the man leaves but is clearly unhappy, implying that there's something wrong with the woman. A comic song mentions a male stripper. Many people assume Mike is gay; it doesn't upset him, but he tries and usually fails to clarify his preference. A woman climbs on top of a man in the front car seat. A man trying to convince another to go out with two women says, "I get the redhead."

Language

Rare: "hell," "damn it," and "bulls--t."

Consumerism

A few scenes take place in bars where brand-name bottles and signs are visible. A scene in a drug store features First Response pregnancy tests, Vaseline, and Dove soap prominently. Other brand-name products are visible on the shelves.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several scenes take place in a bar. Adults have wine with dinner, mention having a nightcap. A woman says she has eggnog but not real liquor. A woman has a couple of shots in a bar. A man mentions he got a little eggnog with booze in it when he was 14.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Noel is a low-key Christmas tearjerker with adult characters and situations that are unlikely to hold the interest of tweens and under. The strongest messages are about letting go of the past so that you can live the life you were meant to live, but it also presents food for thought about the nature of love and the power of forgiveness as the characters learn and grow over one Christmas Eve. There are a few pushes, mention of a split lip, and an emergency-room setting, but no blood or gore are shown. Past violence is told in a couple of stories and includes some details about a man who was physically abused as a child and about another who accidentally killed someone in a jealous rage. A few kisses are shown, sex is implied when a couple is shown in bed, and a woman thinks she might be pregnant. Iffy messages include objectifying a woman's buttocks, a woman being advised that she needs sex and should be with someone, and advising the fiancee of a jealous man with a quick temper that she should try again to stay with him because real love is worth fighting for. Strong language is rare but includes one "bulls--t." Robin Williams fans should note that he makes an uncredited but important appearance as an unhappy, depressed character.

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What's the story?

NOEL brings together the stories of five people in New York whose paths cross at varying places and times over the course of one Christmas Eve. Between her high-powered publishing job and mother who has advanced dementia, Rose (Susan Sarandon) hardly has time for herself, let alone a love life. Mike (Paul Walker) and Nina (Penelope Cruz) are ready to call off the wedding thanks to Mike's uncontrollable and stifling jealousy. Artie (Alan Arkin) is mysteriously drawn to a young police officer. And Jules just wants to relive the best Christmas he ever had, which strangely was in a hospital emergency room. What kind of future will each one have if they can't let go of the past?

Is it any good?

Despite a talented cast and gentle touch behind the camera, director Chazz Palminteri's holiday meditation on love, faith, and letting go falls flat. Noel's main problem is a script that too often takes the easy way out of a situation, and doesn't develop characters in a meaningful way. You feel like you're mostly watching different types of people instead of getting to know anyone real.

Famous for playing the heavy in front of the camera, Palminteri brings lots of eye candy to his role behind it. The cast is attractive, the settings are beautifully photographed, and overall the mood is warm and gentle. Despite modest concerns about negative content, tweens and under are unlikely to be interested in adults coping with aging parents and past traumas. Messages about the nature of love, faith, and letting go of the past won't resonate with more mature viewers: There's just not enough of an emotional connection to the characters, and the easy solutions feel manipulative at best.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Noel uses Christmas, or doesn't, to tell the characters' stories. Why do you think the director or writer uses Christmas Eve as the setting? Would anyone's story be different if the movie took place in summer?

  • Do you agree with Rose that Nina should stay with Mike because real love is worth fighting for? Why? Have you ever been jealous, or has someone been jealous of you? What happened?

  • What are some of your favorite holiday movies? How does this one compare?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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