Reviewed by: Rev. Bryan Griem
|Featuring:||David Wall, Sean Patrick Brennan, Kerry Brennan, Brennan Wall, Jean Bates, Curt Dewitz, David Hickey, Ciaran O'Reilly, Kevin McElroy, J. Scott Henderson, Michael Sweet, Dafydd Rees, Luiz Baille, Sandra Casey, Bill Gleeson, Kenny McGilvray, Joe Cromarty, Ed Etsten, Norma Monbouquette, Jack Kerig, Stephen Russell, Seamus Healy, Pat O'Brien, June Douglas-White, Jan Anderson, Phelim Meehan, Jennemae Mahan, Denise King, Jack Wall, Liam Wall, Dr. Hub Mathewson, Tom Summers, Lenny Manzo, Renee Ramirez, Cecilia Briggi, Sammy Bazarewsky, Grace Cangiano, Nicolo Gulla, Aiden Keene, Christian Keene, Genny Paige, Addie-Eileen Paige, Erin Mahoney, George Cagiano, Paula Ramirez, Gabrielle Trappe, Kristine Pregot|
|Producer:||John Brennan, Kerry Brennan, Kerry Brennan, Sean Patrick Brennan, Sean Patrick Brennan, Denise DeFelice Hopkins, Lenny Manzo, David Wall, David Wall|
“He came to shut them down. They had a better idea.”
This story begins with Father Jonathan Keene, a Robert Redford-looking church killer, who arrives in Cape Cod to end the life of a local congregation that the Catholic authorities deem no longer profitable. He is a conflicted person who must come to terms with his life’s calling and simultaneously execute the immediate task at hand. Upon arrival, he encounters various townspeople until he catches up to the parish priest, Father Simeon Joyce (Sean Patrick Brennan) who he convinces to stage a living Nativity with the clinging church members on Christmas Eve. This was to be the congregation’s last chance at drawing public attention with the hope of saving the declining church, before Fr. Keene officially pulled the plug.
Noëlle, the feminine variant of the French word for Christmas that literally means “Nativity,” is the name of Fr. Keene’s imaginary child specter that intermittently makes appearances throughout the film. She is a haunting memory and the cause for his current unhappy course in life. The actors that play Fr. Keene, Noëlle, and Marjorie Worthington, the theatrical candidate for Mary in the upcoming Nativity, are all members of a single family of actors; the Wall’s (David Wall, Brennan Wall, and Kerry Wall, respectively). All perform with excellence and lend quality to the film.
As the story progresses, the interaction between the two priests shows them both to be very human, but the man from the home office comes off as cold and impersonal, while the failing church pastor is revealed to be a beloved shepherd of people who cherishes his job, burdens and all. In the end, all the critical issues of the movie positively resolve, leaving the viewer with an emotional boost for the Christmas season, and plenty to ponder for many days following.
The film, overall, is an interesting production that is easy to follow and like. While the production values are low, the movie delivers in various ways with witty exchanges and intermittent parallels to the biblical story of the birth of Christ. For example, there is a local tree service called The Tree Kings, as in We Three Kings (the star-chasing Wisemen); there is a questionable character with the last name of Herod (like the ruling despot during the time of Christ’s birth), and then there is the aforementioned Marjorie, who is an unwed pregnant mother-to-be, reminiscent of the biblical Mary.
While there are entertaining and amusing bits in the movie, there are times when the script dialogue comes off rather forced and contrived. As well, the character of Father Joyce is likeable and spiritually insightful, but his lines are more often than not delivered flat, uninspiring, and almost monotone. It becomes rather distracting.
One item of concern for Christian viewers will be the role that alcohol plays in so much of the film. While there is a friendly pub run by a wise and kindly barkeep, consumption sometimes crosses the border from drink to drunk, and the ill-effects associated with inebriation are played out, and those by the clergymen. Prohibitionists will find the whole thing to be distasteful, while others will appreciate the distinction made between social libation and intemperate excess, and the fact that the repercussions of each are delineated. In one scene, a fight breaks out as a result of excessive holiday cheer, albeit mixed with righteous indignation. This is one of the few acts of violence in the movie, but there is nothing portrayed in the film resulting in permanent harm or death to anyone.
With regard to language, the movie is rather tame, but Hell is referenced on one occasion, not as the biblical location, but purely as an expletive. The same with the word “cr*p.” The literal name of God is not used in vain, but the generic word “god” is used repeatedly by one character in various expressions of exasperation, such as “good god,” “my god,” and “thank god.” Smoking is also shown in some scenes.
The subject of abortion is a hidden theme in the movie that is at times discussed and considered, and ultimately gets answered with a pro-life worldview. It is this issue that leads to the redemption, forgiveness, and a second chance at life for the key characters, and ultimately the whole town. Even the congregation is revived, and the movie ends with the cameo vocaling of Michael Sweet (lead singer for the Christian rock band, Stryper). He serves in the background as one of The Tree Kings until he steps forward and delivers the movie’s closing hymn.
Protestant viewers may be put off at this Evangelical-production’s elevated presentation of Roman Catholicism. While slice-of-life movies can be enjoyed unanimously by virtue of common human experience, “Noëlle” possesses an underlying tenor of undiscerning ecumenism that will cause bristling. For those not considering theological ramifications, this may go completely over their heads and won’t even factor into their enjoyment of the story at all.
Reformation issues aside, there is enough entertainment value in this movie to recommend its patronage. Perhaps the strongest line in “Noëlle” is a Jesus quote that rolls off the lips of Fr. Joyce in answer to man’s purpose; “to love one another.” According to Christ, that is a command for Christians second only to loving God (John 13:34; Mark 12:29-31), and both converge especially at this blesséd season of NOEL.
Violence: Mild / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: None
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.