The Noel Diary on Netflix adapts Richard Paul Evans’ 2017 Christmas novella, with Justin Hartley (This Is Us) and Barrett Doss (Station 19) in starring roles. 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 extremely attractive, as noted multiple times throughout the film due to Hartley’s performance. 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. Rachel Campbell (Barrett Doss), a mysterious woman, reveals that her adoption papers brought her to this place and that her mother was a nanny there. 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 Films Does It Recall? : Imagine the 2002 Rob Lowe-starring film adaptation of the darkly romantic holiday song/ghost The Christmas Shoes. Or, this might be 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 film is riddled with tragic turns, so Remar’s honest acting is a welcome relief.
Jake to his neighbor Ellie (a charmingly eccentric performance by Bonnie Bedelia): “What was it that Robert Frost always said? Isn’t he the one who stated, “The best way out is always through?” Although I am quite certain he has never met a hoarder.”
Jake and Rachel encounter a Christmas pageant that includes a showing of It’s a Wonderful Life in one of the towns they pass through on their road trip.
When it premieres on Lifetime on December 10, you may see The Noel Diary followed by Kirk Franklin’s The Night Before Christmas -about a separated mother and daughter — if a marathon of holiday films about children reconnecting with their divorced parents doesn’t depress you.
The film is about Rachel discovering her birth mother’s journal, and her birth mother’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 similarly evokes all 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 eventually (how could they not?). The fact that Rachel is engaged immediately makes the film more scandalous 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 central romance. Then you must ask yourself what you want from not only your holiday films, but also your Hartley films. You should adjust your expectations if you expect to see a charming romance between Justin Hartley and Barrett Doss. This is not the type of film that will dazzle you with holiday lights and leave you humming carols for the rest of the evening. If you’re looking for a slow-paced road trip film about confronting past traumas and a touch of infidelity, this is more your style.
Our Advice: SKIP IT. Fans of This Is Us may want to see Justin Hartley tug at their heartstrings during the holiday season, but The Noel Diary may tug too hard.