By: Laura Bennett
No matter where you end up in life, all of us have an origin story. Somewhere we came from that shaped us – and maybe where we’ve either run from or return to when we crave a sense of “home”.
As life would have it, it’s oftentimes in the crossroad moments or times of loss that we must confront our origins and face up to how it’s impacted our present.
In The Noel Diary, Justin Hartley (This is Us, Bad Moms Christmas) is best-selling author Jacob Turner, a high-flyer who returns home to settle his estranged mother’s estate after her unexpected passing. There he meets Rachel (Barrett Doss), a visitor to the neighbourhood whose childhood secrets are tied to a diary found in Jacob’s home.
With a slightly grittier emotional arc than most holiday movies, The Noel Diary has a win in casting Justin Hartley in its lead role, using his recognisability and credible acting chops to add weight to a storyline that could have otherwise fallen prey to the superficial treatment we’re used to in the Christmas romance genre.
That’s not to say there isn’t a hint of Hallmark as Jacob fumbles with a fire and he and Rachel serendipitously make music together, but if we’re truly to believe in the struggles these characters face then they needed to bring legitimacy to the Christmas-movie formula.
Increasingly, where The Noel Diary and its streaming mates Falling for Christmas and Christmas with You fall over is in what they define as acceptable in the pursuit of true love.
In all three, the women have pre-existing relationships before meeting the new men. In two of them, the women are engaged but that becomes inconsequential as they realise their current crush is the guy they are “really” meant to be with.
To make us OK with the way these prior relationships are off-handedly thrown aside, the fiancés are cast as slightly dimwitted, arrogant or nerdy, i.e. not nearly as suitable as “the new guy”. It makes for efficient storytelling if we’re not invested in them but undermines the ideal of marriage many holiday movies are pushing toward. It’s a horrible reflection of the real-world costs of treating people and relationships that way.
This trope sours the ending of a lot of these movies because it’s hard to celebrate “the happy couple” when you consider the heartbreak in their wake.
Sure, “it’s just a movie” and Christmas ones especially aren’t meant to be the backbone of moral virtue. However, if what they sell us is an escape into a supposedly more fulfilling reality where everything is decorated just-so, the snow always falls at the right time and we feel a love like no other, it would be nice if that “better reality” was one where commitment was respected and broken hearts were acknowledged.
The Noel Diary is streaming on Netflix now.
Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.
All images: Movie publicity
About the Author: Laura Bennett is a media professional, broadcaster and writer from Sydney, Australia.