‘The Noel Diary’ Review: Revelations on a Cold Winter’s Night

Justin Hartley (“This Is Us”) is no stranger to the themes in this holiday romance, while Barrett Doss (“Station 19”) brings nuanced comedic timing and charm.

In a scene from “The Noel Diary,” two people ride along with a dog in a vehicle. The woman is looking and smiling in the man’s direction, and the windshield is drenched in snow.
Barrett Doss as Rachel and Justin Hartley as Jake in “The Noel Diary.”Credit...KC Bailey/Netflix

The Noel Diary
Directed by Charles Shyer
Comedy, Drama, Romance
1h 39m

The actor Justin Hartley, who won fame on “This Is Us,” is no stranger to the themes in the holiday romance “The Noel Diary.” The yearning of adoptees, the tug of interracial connections and the repercussions of a family tragedy should ring a welcome bell for fans of NBC’s wonderfully weepy melodrama.

In the movie, Hartley plays Jake Turner, a best-selling author who returns to his estranged mother’s home in Connecticut after her death. He learns she had become a hoarder — though a notably hygienic one — and finds a journal by an unknown author amid the clutter.

A young woman pens her worries onto its pages in the movie’s opening scene.

Barrett Doss (“Station 19”) brings nuanced comedic timing and charm to Rachel, whose search for her birth mother — the journal writer — has led her to Jake’s childhood home, where she’s seen standing tentatively across the street.

Although Rachel is engaged, the two immediately share a spark, one stoked by their road trip to Jake’s even more estranged father in hopes of learning about Rachel’s mother.

James Remar, Bonnie Bedelia and Essence Atkins do nicely buttressing work as Jake’s rueful dad, a compassionate neighbor and Rachel’s birth mother. And the director Charles Shyer brings a journeyman’s ease to the screenplay (based on Richard Paul Evans’s novel by the same name): embracing holiday movie expectations here, gently deflecting them there.

The roadways are as snow-dappled as the town of Maple Falls, where a showing of a holiday classic further bonds the traveling pair. Their on-the-road revelations offer hints of what could turn out to be a wonderful life. While this will come as heartwarming news for sentimental viewers, it’s sure to leave one unsuspecting fiancé out in the cold.

The Noel Diary
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. Watch on Netflix.