A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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?
- In theaters: November 12, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: October 25, 2005
- Cast: Susan Sarandon, Penelope Cruz, Paul Walker, Robin Williams
- Director: Chazz Palminteri
- Studio: Red Rose Productions
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, Holidays
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: Sensuality, thematic material, and some language
- Last updated: January 16, 2020
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