Netflix’s The Noel Diary brings Richard Paul Evans’ 2017 holiday narrative to life, starring Justin Hartley (This Is Us) and Barrett Doss (Station 19) in the major characters. Previous two have many topics to discuss and connect over, and if these films are any indication, they will likely fall in love along the road. So, should you put The Noel Diary at the top of your Christmas list? Or should The Noel Diary be hidden away in a Christmas box?
The Gist: Justin Hartley portrays Jake Turner, a best-selling author who is particularly gorgeous, as is noticed on several times during the film because the person is portrayed by Justin Hartley. When Jake discovers he is the executor of his estranged, deceased mother’s estate, he is compelled to return to his hometown to settle her affairs and resolve his own problems (if he can).
However, he is not the only person that frequents his mother’s home. A mystery lady, Rachel Campbell (Barrett Doss), turns up stating that her adoption papers lead her to this home — and that her mother worked in that house as a nanny. Jake and Rachel then set out to obtain information from the only living person who could know anything about this mystery nanny: Jake’s even more estranged, but still living, father (James Remar). How will Jake react when confronted with the guy who abandoned him decades ago? Will Rachel eventually locate her mother?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Picture the cinematic version of the darkly emotional holiday song/wraith The Christmas Shoes — which reportedly was converted into a movie starring Rob Lowe by CBS in 2002. Or maybe this is A Family Stone For Two.
James Remar, who I recall from the current Miracle on 34th Street, does an excellent job humanizing a father who deserts his wife and child after a terrible catastrophe. His performance is sensitive without feeling forced or like a mask for an imminent disappointment. This is a movie full with heartbreaking turns, so receiving an honest performance from Remar seems like a reprieve.
Jake to his neighbor Ellie (a charmingly eccentric performance by Bonnie Bedelia): “What was it that Robert Frost always said? He said, ‘The greatest way out is always through,’ right? Although I am quite certain he has never met a hoarder.”
A Holiday Tradition: One of the towns that Jake and Rachel pass through on their road trip happens to host a Christmas pageant that includes a showing of It’s a Wonderful Life.
Two Turtle Doves: If a marathon of holiday movies about kids reuniting with their estranged parents doesn’t sound like a complete bummer to you, you can watch The Noel Diary followed by Kirk Franklin’s The Night Before Christmas —about an estranged mother and daughter — when it premieres on Lifetime on December 10.
Does the Title Make Any Sense?: The film is about Rachel discovering her biological mother’s journal, and her mom’s name was Noel… so, yes.
Our Opinion: There is absolutely a place for Christmas romcoms that omit the com entirely; perhaps they are holiday rom-dramas. The holidays are all about experiencing things in general, whether those feelings be happiness or sadness, or nostalgia in all its pleasant and terrible forms. The Noel Diary too strikes all the emotions. There are a few giggles and a few humorous exchanges between Jake and his neighbor Ellie. As in an episode of This Is Us, there are also a few large, emotional moments designed to make you grab for a box of tears. If you thought The Noel Diary’s 100-minute length could pass without Justin Hartley making life-altering decisions in the rain, you were mistaken.
The key selling point of The Noel Diary must be the relationship between Hartley and Doss. They do admirably as strangers who become emotionally intimate road trip companions in a matter of minutes. You know they’re going to get together someday (how could they not?). The fact that Rachel is engaged immediately makes the film more controversial than any Hallmark film.
There is a point at which The Noel Diary veers into drama drama territory, and this shift may diminish your appreciation for the film’s fundamental romance. Then you must ask yourself what you want from not only your holiday films, but also your Hartley films. You should adapt your expectations if you want to see a romantic relationship between Justin Hartley and Barrett Doss. This is not the type of film that will dazzle you with holiday lights and have you humming carols for the rest of the evening. If you want a slow road trip movie about overcoming previous traumas and perhaps mild infidelity – this is more that mood.
Our Advice: SKIP IT. Fans of This Is Us may want to watch Justin Hartley tug at their emotions throughout the holiday season, but The Noel Diary may tug too much.