Rating: 3 out of 5.

As much as I adore Justin Hartley, his participation in Netflix’s new holiday movie The Noel Diary did not mean an automatic home run. As with anything I watch regardless of the talent involved, I judge it by the filmmaker’s intent, and how much fun I am having in watching them carry out their vision. Based on the novel by Richard Paul Evans, The Noel Diary still somehow manages to clock in at an all-too-brief 99 minute runtime. Though certain elements feel undercooked, I still had a decent enough time watching The Noel Diary. Directed by Charles Shyer (Father of the Bride, 1998’s The Parent Trap, Alfie), there is at least a focus on characters, and an ever-present chemistry between the film’s two romantic leads.

Famous author Jake Turner (Hartley, This Is Us, Senior Year) is in the midst of a heavily-attended book tour when he receives the call nobody ever wants—his estranged mother has died, and left everything in her estate to Jake. For the first time in forever, Jake heads to his mother’s home to get her affairs in order, and rummage through its contents. Using the time there to reconnect with an older neighbor still fond of him, Jake eventually meets sweet, mysterious Rachel (Barrett Doss, Iron Fist, Girls), in search of her birth mother.

It would seem that this was her mom’s last known address; being adopted, Rachel wants nothing more than to finally meet the woman who gave her up, and find out answers to why. A language major that fluently speaks several different ones, Rachel has immediate chemistry with Jake despite being engaged. By the time the two go on the road together seeking out Jake’s father, sparks are flying. So what if they have not spoken in thirty-five years—Jake is willing to go down this path if it means helping Rachel get the answers she deserves. 

The film leans heavily into its title when Rachel uncovers diaries in the backseat of Jake’s car. A window directly into her mother’s thoughts and feelings turns out to be exactly what Rachel has been looking for. Very briefly, the script attempts to go meta by bringing up rom-com tropes as Jake and Rachel are about to check in a hotel. Jake notes that if they only had one room available, it would be the perfect rom-com setup. Later, they stop at another hotel in which there is indeed only one room available. It is a cute aside, and minor diversion to the tropes, but the end result is of course exactly the same.

Attempts to introduce conflict and of course that stereotypical late-in-the-game wrench thrown into the romantic prospects aren’t quite as intense as one would expect. Then again, this is a PG-rated romance on Netflix. Our leads don’t exactly have a sizzling-hot sexual chemistry, either. This won’t win any awards, nor does it try to subvert one’s typical romantic comedy idealization. Regardless, I found myself slowly won over by its simplistic charms.

Prepare to open up The Noel Diary when it debuts exclusively to Netflix on Thursday, November 24th.  

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