‘The Noel Diary’ Review: A Classic Christmas Love Story

Christmas season is here, and with it, an entire avalanche of Christmas titles is ready to put you in the seasonal mood. Christmas movies are mostly the same, they tell stories about family, love, understanding, and how the season is the perfect time to fix things with other people. Lately, most audiences care a lot about ideas and originality. They care about it maybe a bit too much, though. However, it is never too late when they are reminded that the true magic of cinema comes from execution. The Noel Diary, the new Netflix Christmas movie, is here to remind us of that.

The Noel Diary is a movie directed by Charles Shyer and stars Justin Hartley, Barrett Doss, Bonnie Bedelia, and James Remar. The movie tells the story of Jacob, a bestseller author of spy novels, who receives the news that his mother has passed very close to the Christmas season. Now Jacob must return home and put things in order. However, back home, he will meet Rachel, a woman on her own quest. Together, they will experience the magic of meeting the person who is right for them.

Novelty is very important. Watching or seeing something that you have never seen before is exciting and invigorating. However, novelty isn’t everything. Why? Because for those new ideas to actually have an impact, they need to be well executed. A great new idea that is well executed is very rare, but new ideas with poor execution are more common. A movie that has a classic story but is poorly executed is also very common. Execution matters, because it can make even the most clichéd stories grab you and take you for a ride.

The Noel Diary is exactly one of those movies. The story is one that we have seen played out countless times. Actually, the entire romance genre has been trapped for decades inside the narrative structure presented in The Noel Diary. So, you will not find anything new here. You have seen this movie before. You know how this movie will end, and yet, The Noel Diary will grab you very early and give you everything that you need to experience a classic Christmas love story in the front row.

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As someone who has been watching a lot of what Netflix has been offering this Christmas season, The Noel Diary really makes an impression as a movie that looks and feels like one. And not like just another Hallmark Channel-type movie made on an assembly line. Shyer’s direction is solid and understated. The pacing is quite enjoyable, and the movie finished before I even realized it. This was the complete opposite of other movies on the streaming service that feel endless because they have nothing to latch onto.

Most of the enjoyment comes from the fact that both Justin Hartley and Barett Doss are the perfect protagonists for this movie. A romantic movie can live or die just by the strength of the actors involved in such a romance. Hartley and Doss are not only beautiful people, but their chemistry together is through the roof. They look and act so sweet together that they might make you sick. Nevertheless, from the moment they meet you know something is going to happen with these two, you know exactly what, so there is no surprise, but you want to see it, you need to.

The result of having actors such as these in the roles is that the movie doesn’t waste any time selling us on the fact that these two not only look great together but also feel great together. Not everything is pretty tough. Both characters are living through some tough moments, and you can feel their doubt at taking a leap of faith when finding something wonderful to jump for or remaining in the safe space where they have been living until that moment. The movie doesn’t really push for dramatic moments, which feels great, but the moments are there, and they are subtle enough to feel organic and real.

Visually, the movie looks great. There has been a huge issue with Netflix Christmas movies recently. They are all over-lit, and they look pretty awful as a result. They feel more like being shot inside a supermarket than anywhere else. Thankfully, The Noel Diary knows that lighting is such an important part of the visual look of a movie that it takes care of it. It isn’t the most gorgeous film ever shot, but it does feel like a movie and less like a Sears commercial.

So, great execution pushes this story from mediocrity to something that can be enjoyed by many audience members during the holiday season. Both actors are great, and their chemistry is amazing, and the film looks solid. However, towards the end, the film wraps up in a very rushed way, and the issues get resolved almost magically. This moment feels a bit underwhelming. The ending gives you exactly what you want, but it feels like it needs to wrap up things immediately and not a second too late.

In the end, The Noel Diary feels like a very good option to watch during Christmas. The movie has all the elements of a movie that feel enjoyable. The characters look and feel great, and the drama never becomes unbearable. If this was the standard of quality that Netflix would deliver with each new Christmas movie, then I would be excited for Christmas to come to Netflix every single year.

SCORE: 7/10

  • Nelson loves all things related to storytelling. He has spent most of his life studying narrative, applied across all mediums; film, TV, books, and video games. Mulholland Drive is his favorite film.