Netflix’s Christmas films all have one thing beautifully in common this year, and it’s the quiet exploration of grief. Falling For Christmas, Christmas With You, and now, The Noel Diary all look into the heartaches of death and how people begin to live again afterward. While Netflix’s The Noel Diary is less of a romance than the former films that have been released, it’s still a riveting holiday film worth watching as it addresses what it means to find understanding and forgiveness.
Netflix’s The Noel Diary stars This is Us alum Justin Hartley, who’s no stranger to bringing emotionally nuanced performances to the small screen. Hartley plays Jacob Turner, a well-established author who returns to his hometown after his mother’s passing. Though viewers are made aware that the two were at odds with one another, his mother leaving him all her belongings kicks the story toward unraveling secrets and finding understanding.
While Jacob is cleaning out his mother’s house, a woman named Rachel, played by Barrett Doss (Station 19), knocks on the door, asking for information about the birth mother she’s looking for. Though Jacob cannot remember the woman because he was young when she was his nanny, his longtime neighbor, Ellie Foster (Bonnie Bedelia), states that Jacob’s father, Scott (James Remar), would know. The problem is that Jacob hasn’t spoken to his father in years. While the narrative doesn’t immediately tell us why, it shows it throughout the rotation of character interactions, making the reveal much more heartbreaking.
The Noel Diary works because of the message it presents. What happens when the grief is too much to handle, and regrets simmer in a person’s psyche until there’s nowhere for them to run? In an inaudible moment on the road to his father’s house, Jacob begins to tell Rachel about his Ben. The audience doesn’t quite know what happened to Ben, only that there was a snowstorm, and he passed. During Jacob’s conversation with his father, we learn that Scott blamed himself for Ben’s death after letting him leave the house to place the ornament on the big tree in front of their yard. Because of the snowstorm, Ben slipped and tragically fell to his death.
While Jacob tells her this story during their time together, Rachel reads from her mother’s diary. As she does this, she begins to understand her mother better, but at the same time, it also helps Jacob understand his parents. Now, here’s the downfall of the movie: no one loves a “there was only one bed” trope more than this writer. But simultaneously, when said moments are tainted with one or both parties in another relationship, it makes it difficult to get excited about what’s progressing. Rachel’s fiance isn’t a bad person, he’s merely not the one for her, and that much is evident as she talks about him. But the narrative never makes it clear when or how Rachel ends things with him, and as adorable as the scenes with Rachel and Jacob in the hotel are, there’s a barrier between them.
While the emotional beats work well in thrusting the characters toward their growth, the unusual progression of their relationship in the third act seems a bit too dramatic. The story is already heavy, and The Noel Diary didn’t need to add more drama.
Still, while the romance might not be top-tier, their progress together and individually with their parents is lovely. Jacob talking to Rachel’s mother instead of having us see their reunion also felt a bit odd. While it’s apparent that Rachel feels satisfied with what she gets in the diary, the film should’ve allowed the scene to be with Rachel and her mother. Since Jacob’s scene with his father is one of the most heartwarming moments in the film, and as our main character, we should’ve gotten the opportunity to watch it with Rachel as well.
Similar Christmas Film Recommendation: My Southern Family Christmas
Though despite its flaws, Netflix’s The Noel Diary looks into grief, forgiveness, and the chances to start over in places where a person can be their best self. For these reasons alone, it’s certainly worth adding to your watchlist.
The Noel Diary is now streaming on Netflix.