Netflix’s The Noel Diary, much like Christmas With You, is the more serious type of Christmas movie. There’s a lot of snow (almost too much at times, I’d say), and one Christmas tree — complete with vintage lights — but the focus of the movie isn’t the Christmas season, or the magic surrounding it. Instead, The Noel Diary is about the things that make us who we are, how we piece together the past to make our own lives, and almost as importantly, about finding the strength to take a chance – not just on love, but on yourself.
Rachel and Jacob are two very, very similar people. Defined by parental abandonment, terrified of wanting, of risking …because that might mean losing. And just as Rachel goes out of her way to help Jacob find closure and family, it’s Jacob who pushes Rachel to consider what makes her truly happy, even if that comes with a great deal of fear.
But The Noel Diary isn’t just about the romance between Rachel and Jacob, though it is — and honestly, Netflix, our one gripe is that for a romance movie, we didn’t get enough romance, particularly at the end — it’s about the pervasiveness of grief, about the many ways in which people compartmentalize just to get through the day and about how, sometimes, the only way to heal is to stare at the wound. Life, love, the one we want …the one we deserve, requires risk. And the only way to be happy is to be brave enough to try.
For Jacob, that means trying to understand the most awful thing that could happen to a parent –the death of a child. Sure, Jacob lost his brother, but his parents lost a kid, and that kind of thing can break you. It did break both his mom and dad, in different ways. And sometimes, in our grief, we are unable to process what other people are going through, or how we could help each other if we found a way to grieve together.
Rachel, on the other hand, grew up in a loving family but never felt like she belonged. The burden of being left — of not being enough — was always hanging over her, to the point where she clung to things (and people) just because she craved certainty. It’s so so hard to put yourself out there and trust that you are enough when you’ve been left before, especially when the person who first abandoned you was your own mother. If she doesn’t want you, your irrational mind says, why would anyone else?
It’s a very compelling setup for a movie that goes much deeper than Christmas movies usually attempt to — and one that doesn’t actually have an answer to all that ails these characters. Some issues are just …a work in progress, just like we all are. In life, we will never know everything. We just have to keep going, keep living, and take it one step, one lesson at a time.
If The Noel Diary has no problem with the weightier-than-usual messages it attempts to convey, it’s because Barrett Doss and Justin Hartley are perfectly cast as a Rachel and Jacob that are caught in a journey of self-discovery and romance almost without meaning to. We believe their growth and their affection is real not just because this is a Christmas movie, but because their interactions, the way they react, their doubts and even their conversations feel very much like what we would say if we were in their shoes.
Well, that and because you cannot manufacture chemistry, and these two have it in spades.
There’s a certain appeal to silly, uncomplicated Christmas movies. But those, as fun as they are, can never touch your heart in the way The Noel Diary does. And what is Christmas for if not real feelings, right?
Agree? Disagree? What did you think of The Noel Diary? Share with us in the comments below!
The Noel Diary is now available to stream on Netflix.