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Christmas is obviously a time of miracles in Noel.,
This review is from: Noel [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
With its unabashed melodrama, it's hokey premise and contrived plot; it's hard to imagine that Noel has anything going for it. It's such a thick and gooey slice of holiday bunkum and it's hard to understand why an estimable actor like Chazz Palminteri chose David Hubbard's awkward script for his directing debut. On the up side, however, Palminteri is able to draw some very fine performances from his cast – which actually makes Noel worth watching.
Set in New York on Christmas Eve, Noel follows a disparate group of lonely souls, whose lives will eventually intersect. Susan Sarandon is a middle-aged workaholic book editor, a man-shy divorcée who desperately tries to communicate with her mother who is in the final stages of Alzheimer's. Gorgeous office worker Nina (Penélope Cruz) and her strapping, hunky taxi driver fiancé, Mike (Paul Walker), are madly in love, but Mike's jealousy – he breaks out into fits of rage when another man even looks at her - threatens to derail their relationship.
Alan Arkin is a diner employee who in turn is convinced that his late wife's spirit has entered Mike's body - his first encounter with Mike where he offers him some butter cookies is one of the best scenes in the film. In the most thankless role, Marcus Thomas is a young man whose childhood was so brutal that the only happy Christmas he ever had was when family violence sent him to a hospital.
The various stories swirl together, some drifting into the realm of the supernatural and others into the more prosaically therapeutic. But Mr. Palminteri's direction is often choppy, giving no spin or shape to the complex structure. And his message is constantly hammered at us, that Christmas is the perfect time to reach out and touch someone - even if that someone isn't there.
The drama unfolds on an especially emotional and opportune cold winter's eve, and as we watch these people find the resolutions to their problems, the means with which they do this occasionally rings silly, but because the actors and the director seem to have so much faith and belief in there material, we’re mostly able to accept the preposterous turns of events and roll with it.
The extras include interviews with the director and the cast, where Sarandon and Walker comment that the film is destined to become a holiday classic. Well, that's a bit of a stretch, but Noel does represent some of Cruz's and Walker's very best acting, with Walker's final encounter with Arkin taking a surprisingly poignant and heart rendering turn.
Just when we’ve suffered through another cloying cliché, we find ourselves deeply touched by Walker’s beautifully realized character. And Sarandon is so vulnerable that when she is startled to find Robin Williams - or, rather, his mysterious character - sitting next to her mother’s hospital room, she aptly conveys the tone of the movie – the miracles do happen, even if, in this movie, they're sometimes put to a pretty severe test. Mike Leonard November 05.