that of Netflix Noel’s Diary brings Richard Paul Evans’ 2017 vacation story to life, starring Justin Hartley (This is us) and Barrett Doss (Station 19) in the leading roles. These two have a lot of trouble unpacking and bonding — and knowing how these movies go, they’re likely to find love along the way. So, is Noel’s Diary worth putting at the top of your Christmas list? Or should you keep Noel’s Diary locked in a Christmas box?
The core: Justin Hartley plays Jake Turner, a best-selling novelist who is unusually handsome, as noted numerous times in the film, because the man is played by Justin Hartley. When Jake learns that he has suddenly become the executor of his estranged, deceased mother’s estate, he is forced to return to his hometown, manage her affairs, and reconcile his own problems (if he can).
However, he’s not the only one hanging out at his mom’s house. A mysterious woman, Rachel Campbell (Barrett Doss), shows up and says her adoption papers led her to this address – and that her mother worked in that house as a nanny. From there, Jake and Rachel set out to find information from the only person alive who might have a clue about this mysterious nanny: Jake’s even more estranged – but also more alive – father (James Remar). How will Jake deal with seeing the man who abandoned him decades ago? And will Rachel ever find her mother?
What movies will it remind you of?: Imagine the movie version of the dark sentimental holiday song/ghost The Christmas shoes — which was apparently turned into a movie starring Rob Lowe by TBEN in 2002. Or maybe this is A family stone for two.
Achievements worth seeing: James Remar – who I remember from modern times Miracle on 34th Street – does a really great job humanizing a father who abandoned his wife and child after a terrible tragedy. There’s a sensitivity to his performance that doesn’t feel forced or like a cover for impending disappointment. This is a movie full of sad twists and turns, so getting a heartfelt performance from Remar feels like a reprieve.
Memorable dialogue: Jake to his neighbor Ellie (a warmly quirky rendition of Bonnie Bedelia) about the task at hand: “What did Robert Frost always say? He said, “The best way out is always through,” right? Though I’m pretty sure he’s never met a hoarder.’
A holiday tradition: One of the towns Jake and Rachel drive through on their road trip happens to have a Christmas pageant with a screening of It’s a great life.
Two lovebirds: If a marathon of holiday movies about kids reuniting with their estranged parents doesn’t sound like a complete bummer, you can watch Noel’s Diary followed by The Night Before Christmas by Kirk Franklin — about an estranged mother and daughter — when it premieres December 10 on Lifetime.
Is the title correct?: The movie is about Rachel discovering her biological mother’s diary, and her mother’s name was Noel…so yes.
Our opinion: There’s totally a place for holiday rom-coms that skip the com part entirely – maybe it’s holiday rom-drams. The holidays are all about feeling things in general, whether it be emotions, joy or sadness, or nostalgia in all its pleasant and painful forms. Noel’s Diary also touches all emotions. There are chuckles here and there, but also some light-hearted moments between Jake and his neighbor Ellie. There are also some big, cathartic moments that aim to make you reach for the tissues, much like an episode of This is us. If you thought Noel’s Diary could his 100 minute runtime last without Justin Hartley making life-changing decisions in the rain, think again.
The main selling point of Noel’s Diary, however, must be the relationship between Hartley and Doss. They do a good job playing people who go from strangers to emotionally intimate road trip partners in minutes. You know they’re eventually going to hook up (how could they not?), so the wrinkle of Rachel being engaged immediately makes the movie more outrageous than any Hallmark outing.
There is a point where Noel’s Diary taps in drama drama territory, and that shift could undermine how you feel about the movie’s central romance. That’s when you really need to ask yourself what you want from not just your holiday movies, but your Hartley movies as well. If you turn this on expecting to see a charming romance between Justin Hartley and Barrett Doss, you need to adjust your expectations. If you enjoy being blinded by the festive lights of a movie and then get a Christmas carol stuck in your head at night, this isn’t that kind of movie. If you want a patient road trip movie about facing past traumas and some light infidelity – this is more of that vibe.
Our call: SKIP IT. This is us fans may want to see Justin Hartley tug at their heartstrings for Christmas, but Noel’s Diary may pull too hard.