It’s that time of the year.
A time for comfortingly warm and forgettable Christmas movies, which happen to have amazing cringey titles, from the hilariously bland It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, to the bizarre Turkey Drop, to the best ever title in Christmas movie history: Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen.
This year a new channel, or streamer to be specific, joins the likes of Hallmark and Netflix in providing Dec. 25 viewing.opened for business Monday night and one of its launch titles is Noelle, a Christmas comedy starring Anna Kendrick in Santa chic.
It’s definitely not original, a mashup of Elf and Arthur Christmas and every other warm and cosy Christmas movie in existence, and it’s definitely made for TV. But Kendrick is the acerbic gin to the Christmas pudding, and her personal brand of dry humor brings out the banter in this very Disney palette.
Is that enough to watch the movie? It depends if you’re a Kendrick fan. Otherwise, a repeat of Elf is your best bet this Christmas.
Kendrick plays the titular Noelle, daughter of Santa and sister of Nick. When Santa dies, it’s Nick’s turn to take over, but he’s riddled with doubts and insecurity, which is why Disney cast Bill Hader in the role.
Noelle’s job is to bolster Nick’s Christmas spirit, an important and difficult task in a North Pole experiencing a digital revolution. A new naughty-and-nice analytics system threatens children with no room for mistakes, installed by Gabe, a hoodie-wearing and deadpan Billy Eichner.
Encouraging Nick to take a restorative weekend away backfires and Noelle ends up having to chase him across “Aree-zona” to bring him back home and into his destiny as the true Santa.
When she arrives in the palm tree-lined streets steaming under an orange sun, she begins to take Will Ferrell’s fish-out-of-water path step-by-step, encountering street santas and new foods that aren’t as wholesome as they appear on the outside, like orange juice that’s really a screwdriver.
She meets Jake, her “normal” counterpart, a divorced father and private investigator played by Kingsley Ben-Adir, who’s known for playing a PI in, but instead of investigating portals to multiple dimensions, it’s yoga studios.
The romantic element between the two is teased for a moment when Jake helps Noelle figure out how to put on sunscreen without eating it. But their relationship becomes more to do with Noelle helping Alex, Jake’s son, to realize his wish for his family to spend Christmas together.
Befriending a child is where the Elf parallels end and the Arthur Christmas path begins. Noelle proves adept at using her Good Place intuition to determine one’s naughty or nice standing, and when it comes to ascertaining people’s present preferences, the running gag is: “Everyone wants an iPad.”
The question right from the start is will Noelle’s life revolve only around supporting her brother’s achievements — and it’s resolved in a predictable but nevertheless welcome way.
Kendrick plays a mixture of her ambitious ingenue in Up in the Air, her sarcastic punk in Pitch Perfect and her sloppy 20-something in the low-key indie film Happy Christmas. Those tones occasionally clash — Noelle calls her baby reindeer by saying “Yo” and “Dude” but she has no idea what a fist bump is — and give the sense an edgier version of this film could have let the best of Kendrick go ham.
But this is Disney. And it’s Christmas. Noelle isn’t funny, charming or weird enough to match Elf, but with a sprinkling of sweet moments and bad reindeer CGI, it’s still got to be better than Lifetime’s A Sweet Christmas Romance.
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