NOEL. 2004

Director: Chazz Palminteri

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

I don't ordinarily go for sentimental holiday films unless they're so damned good you gotta forgive them for their religious twaddle or mawkish moments. But during a radio discussion of the "top ten" Christmas films, they named a few that I had truly enjoyed, & one that I'd never seen, written & directed by Chazz Palminteri whose autobiographical script for A Bronx Tale (1993) I had liked. So I figured what the hell, & I took a chance on viewing Noel (2002)

NoelTo my thinking it is "missing" from the usual chestnut cluster of films like It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 42nd Street or the Alestair Sim version of A Christmas Carol because it's not their equal.

Nevertheless it has one truly great lead performance from Susan Sarranden bringing Christmas to her late-stage Alzheimers mom in the hospital. It also has a more than adequate supporting cast, including Robin Williams managing not to be the annoying screen presence he usually is.

The Alzheimer part of the story successufully "got" to me, with a supernatural fillip of the sort I almost always fall for; & for all its uplifting intent, Noel is never so ridiculous as to suggest there is anything approaching a happy ending where Alzheimers is concerned.

The second intertwining story regards a young beauty (Penelope Cruz) who has said "yes" to marrying a fellow (Paul Walker) who has one serious psycho problem with jealousy. He supposedly "learns a lesson" by getting to know an aging nutbag (Alan Arkin) who destroyed his own life & that of his late wife because of his unchecked jealousy.

The story of this guy's conversion to trusting his fiance I didn't buy into as much, for he has a serious mental illness that won't be cured by a Christmas lesson, even if acknowledging he has a problem is a step in the right direction.

And with the elderly Alan Arkan's belief that this young cop with a bad temper is his late wife reincarnated, there is some deep pathos in the cop's combination of macho disgust that the old guy wants to kiss him, &mp his growing affection that actually causes him to believe, if only momentarily, that the crazy old coot is right.

This was actor/playwrite/director Chazz Palminteri's directorial debut & he's frankly too much a New Yorker to throw together a Christmas movie full of naivete.

It does have some nearly mawkish moments, with a large dose of Christmas cutesiness. But it does not end as absurdly upbeat as Christmas films usually do, good uns or bad uns. It ends only with hope & love in a world where death is real & Santa isn't. So yes, its twaddle & sentiment are forgiveable because it delivers something heartfelt & impressive, avoiding sappiness without resorting to cynicism.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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