Christmas Eve is a time for joy, a time you spend with your family and loved ones, a time you wish will never end. Unfortunately for many Christmas Eve could be just another night filled with loneliness and a struggle to make sense of a life where misery seems to be taking the bigger part of it. At least that is what Chaz Palminteri wants to convince us with his latest film Noel where five New Yorkers are struggling to come to terms with their lives…a few hours before Christmas Eve.
For Rose (Susan Sarandon) life has taken a direction where nothing exciting really happens. She has to take care of her ill mother and make the boring daily trips to the local hospital where time seems to have stopped. Her job is boring and she lives alone…no one loves her, no one needs her.
For Nina (Penelope Cruz) her relationship with Mike (Paul Walker) is a constant struggle to make sense of what even teenagers would not tolerate in a worthy union-a blatant lack of respect. Nina must endure Mike's overly controlling behavior and hope that one day after they get married it will all end up. Mike on the other hand has to figure out why an elderly man in his fifties is now suspiciously stalking him. As to poor Jules (Marcus Thomas), he has just broken his arm hoping to spend another Christmas Eve in the local hospital where there are plenty of people willing to give him a hug when the clock strikes midnight.
Upon its release Chazz Palminteri's latest feature Noel was simply destroyed by the critics and I could not wait to see why this unpretentious little film received such extreme reviews. It was almost as if Noel drew a line in the sand between regular moviegoers who adored its honest message and of course the "serious" critics who ripped it apart in just about every possible department. Now having seen it I can only tell that each side has its valid arguments. Below I will attempt to explain why:
So, why did the public love Noel? Well, quite frankly what's not to like about it? The film creates just about the right atmosphere for a Christmas feature where everything, from the narrative to the camera work, implies a happy-ending which is meant to make you feel good on the way back from the cinema. Yes, there are a few edgy questions which Noel asks but the finale provides closure to just about all of them in such a sweet manner that I doubt anyone that sees this film will remain unsatisfied by the message(s) Chazz Palminteri delivers. With other words, it is quite easy to see why you might feel good about seeing Noel. Or, maybe not!
So, why did the critics dismiss Noel? A quick, blunt, and rather generic answer would be "because it simply feels fake" and I mean "laughably fake". Not even for a second did I stop thinking that this is just another film that will eventually end up after ninety minutes of flashy camera work and semi-witty dialog. The brightly-lit buildings of New York City, the "lovable" crowd at the local bistro, even the friendly taxi-driver somehow didn't do it for me either. It did not help that we followed Jules to a half-demolished movie theater somewhere in the backyards of the city, or witnessed Susan Sarandon's character contemplating suicide by the river…it all felt too predictable, it all felt too banal, the entire film felt like "yes, I have seen this before so let's just go home and see something more intriguing". Quite frankly Noel feels like one big made-for-cable TV production which is not any different than what MTV would cook-up for its viewers…its just that the targeted audience for it is meant to be a bit more mature. Hardly a compliment, wouldn't you say?
How Does the DVD Look?
IMDB lists the film as being shot in 2.35:1 and I am going to accept their claim as being the truth which is not a good sign for this DVD release as what we get is a print in an approximate ratio of 1.78:1. Being enhanced for widescreen TV's Noel looks good as colors are vibrant, contrast handled rather well, and edge enhancement at a tolerable level. Overall this DVD should meet the requirements of the crowd it is meant to impress.
How Does the DVD Look?
What DVDTALK was provided with for this review was not a finished product but just a "screener" and therefore I would assume that the 5.1 track provided for the "original" release must be rather impressive. With this said the Dolby Digital track on this "screener" is of decent quality though in reality nothing too exceptional that would deserve our praise.
As mentioned above due to some unknown to me reason instead of finished product (DVDTALK provides reviews of finished product for its readers) I was provided with a "screener" which simply announces that the feature commentary, cast interviews, and behind the scene footage, can only be found in the disc version. With other words, you will have to forgive me that I can not provide you with an analysis of the extra features that should be found in the market version of Noel.
As much as I hate to say it Noel is just another film among a sea of sugary productions that is meant to make you feel good with Christmas just around the corner. With a cast that surely can do better and a director that has much, much more to offer to its fans this is clearly a film that fits the "rental material" description. If you are willing to waste ninety minutes of your time and have nothing better to do…RENT IT.