3 December 2004 | noralee
A Lovely Magic Realism Holiday Romantic Fable
"Noel" is a lovely holiday fable that has been unfairly savaged by critics. I found it a charming matching of everyday hard knocks (though only shot partly in New York City) and magic realism.
Key to its attraction are two of the central characters amidst the ensemble Christmas Eve stories.
Susan Sarandon is marvelous as a 40-something woman dragged down by her Alzheimer's mother who undergoes in effect a walkabout through the city to reexamine her life.
Paul Walker is wonderful as a very macho, very New York cop whose explosive jealousy around his fiancée pushes her away. As she is Penelope Cruz in the only English-language role I've ever liked her in, his reaction to how guys look at her is grounded in some reality. His own reaction to her sexy private dancing for him ratchets up the seasonal temperature in terrific chemistry of his blue-eyed blond and her sultry darkness, though I don't know if the televised version on TNT cut anything from the theatrical version.
The central characters are touched by oddballs, played by Robin Williams and Allan Arkin, who are as unlikely as Clarence from "It's A Wonderful Life" or the old man in "Prelude to a Kiss," and similarly help them reach important epiphanies at dawn.
The pay-off also finally comes in a side story about a man with nostalgia for Christmas in the E.R., but is more heavy-handed.
The repeated jokes about straight guys misidentified as gay are of the heavy handed "Will and Grace" mode but are useful to specific plot points.