| December 1, 2004

While TNT’s latest holiday-flick Noel is aptly subtitled with the catchphrase “miracles are closer than you think,” it would truly have been a miracle if this Christmas-themed sap tried a little less hard at its desperate attempts to fall into the category of a heart-warming film.
Premiering earlier this year at the Toronto Film Festival and later appearing on TNT, Noel is currently the first movie available on FlexPlay’s new no-return DVD formatting. The DVD disk one rents works for 48 hours upon opening and then expires by turning from red to black. Unfortunately, the exciting new way of renting DVD’s is more notable than the film itself.
Despite a big-name cast filled with renowned actors and actresses, Noel seems a bit lost. Susan Sarandon stars as Rose, a single, 40-something woman who spends too much time worrying about her hospitalized mother to let herself enjoy her own life. Another plot takes us into the jealousy-infused almost-newlywed relationship of Nina (Penelope Cruz) and Mike (Paul Walker.) Also thrown in the mix is the always mesmerizing Robin Williams as a haunting ex-priest or angel or dying-man-in-hospital-bed, and Alan Arkin, who plays the charmingly psychotic Artie, a character who teaches Mike an important lesson on jealousy, love and trust.
Set in New York City on the day of Christmas Eve, Noel follows the lives these various lonely characters wandering about the big apple on a night that’s meant for companionship and an unconditional faith in human connection. One character, Jules (Marcus Thomas) even goes so far as to break his hand in order to attend a Christmas party at the hospital emergency room.
Interweaving between each of these stories is a repetitive maudlin score by composer Alan Menkin. Menkin, who is better known for his work on the Disney films “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Aladdin,” to name a few, has created a score that is what ultimately ends up pushing the already syrupy film into a product that is too sweet to swallow.
Director Chazz Palminteri creates a few memorable moments where the music and the plot tie together and effectively communicate the film’s main themes. Cruz’s soft big brown eyes paired against Walker’s innocently sparkling baby blues make this couple an on-screen viewing delight. Rose’s interactions with the man in the room across the hall in the hospital are indeed the most interesting parts of the film.
Although Noel takes the characters through some fairly unrealistic scenarios, the acting remains consistently strong. Sarandon, who lacks the intense complexity of Cruz and Robbins, maintains her blandly safe take on Rose, which doesn’t quite make sense come sense in which her character looses control. A viewable build in character is missing.
Yet for those who enjoy sappy films that preach traditional values of faith and morality, Noel has the potential to be a hit amongst this particular audience. For everyone else, Noel could use a little less musical cotton-candy, and a bit more bittersweet substance.

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