Noelle (2019)

“I would like to do what you do.”

Noelle, for better and more so for worse, unintentionally captures what it’s like to open gifts from slightly distant relatives during the holidays. You might receive something you actually need, but more often than not it’s merely another drab shirt destined to be donated years later when the closet needs cleaning out. So much of this film is recycled, repetitive, redundant. And that seriously hinders the few heartfelt moments that manage to squeeze their way in. Noelle has good, earnest, progressive ideas, but it all adds up to nothing you’ll remember or anything worthy of an annual Christmas season revisit.

The movie starts off strong, showing us that even Santa (Jay Brazeau) has to play the role for his own two children. Noelle Kringle (Oakley Bull) waits up for her father, hiding behind the tree while he works his magic. The older Nick (Owen Vaccaro) sleeps through the racket until it’s gift time. Noelle, with her penchant for spreading cheer, gets a kit for card making. And much to his surprise, Nick gets the famous red hat, a signal that the training to become Santa’s successor is about to begin. It’s an effective and bashful opening act, plainly informing us that maybe a gift swap between the siblings should have been allowed.

Now grown and following the death of their dad, Noelle (Anna Kendrick, whose real age is perplexing for the character) is asked to be an emotional support crutch for Nick (Bill Hader, whose real age is even more questionable), who’s terrified of taking the reigns. Noelle suggests Nick takes some time off, he fleas for the warmth of Phoenix, and the heart of the story – a two-sided, dual tale about unwanted inheritance and finding one’s ultimate purpose – loses itself to an exceptionally dull plot. The relationship Noelle strikes up with private investigator Jake Hapman (Kingsley Ben-Adir), which thankfully doesn’t force romance, never manifests much honesty. Nor does the presence of Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine), joining Noelle on the rescue mission. Noelle works well enough when it keeps things simple, but this movie could’ve easily trimmed 10-15 minutes off of its run time. It feels like a TV movie, made by a new streaming service from a media monopoly, that mistakenly wants it to have the standard theatrical length. Less could have been so much more.

The middle of Marc Lawrence’s script doesn’t work at all, and Billy Eichner is strangely irritating as cousin Gabriel, next in line after Nick’s abandonment of his post. Gabriel’s a tech geek, emails kids that they’re naughty, and wants to ditch the human touch for an automated gift delivery service. In a movie that tries to be so desperately cheery and joyful, the obvious criticism of Jeff Bezos and Amazon – while not out of place but incredibly on the nose – almost seems tonally grating and out of character. Easy to digest holiday movies don’t need reminders that we’re getting more physically distant as we get more socially connected through our fingertips. We watch them to feel warm when the world outside our windows looks as cold as it feels. And while Noelle tries its best to blend The Santa Clause and Elf into something new, it more or less feels like the black-market, knockoff version of a brand name toy. Noelle looks the part until it falls to pieces like a cheap Happy Meal toy. Don’t expect a refund or much to chew on.

“I have mixed feelings, honestly.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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