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The holiday season is a time of lights and shopping and presents and cookies and eggnog and time spent with friends and family. But with the festivities also comes a time of reflection, making it the perfect time to watch movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol—and Noel.

Noel follows five characters on Christmas Eve in New York City. Rose (Susan Sarandon) is a divorced woman with heartbreaking memories of Christmas. She’s left with no one but her elderly mother, who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. While visiting her mother in the hospital, Rose meets Charlie (Robin Williams), a man who’s come to visit the patient across the hall—who never gets visitors.

Jules (Marcus Thomas) is a lonely young man who will do whatever it takes to recreate the best Christmas he ever had—in the local emergency room when he was fourteen years old.

Nina (Penélope Cruz) and Mike (Paul Walker) are a young couple, just a week away from their wedding. Though Nina loves Mike, she’s not sure if she can live with his extreme jealousy. When he goes too far, Nina walks out.

And, finally, Artie (Alan Arkin) is a waiter who’s tormented by guilt and regret. When Mike walks into the café where Artie works, Artie is immediately convinced that Mike is his reincarnated wife—and he follows Mike home to talk to him.

Noel isn’t a light, fluffy holiday flick. In fact, it’s pretty heavy at times—and it’s sure to make you shed a tear or two. But it’s a beautifully dramatic film about how people can touch each other’s lives, often without even realizing it. It depicts the loneliness and pain that so many people experience during the holidays while the festivities go on without them—and it ends with some hope.

While there are parts of the story that are occasionally a bit obvious—and other parts don’t seem to fit with the rest—director Chazz Palminteri makes the film moving and sentimental without coming off as sappy. The ensemble cast is wonderful—and even tough guy Walker manages to show a little bit of emotion. Sarandon easily takes charge of her role, playing it without the slightest hint of bitterness and making Rose an especially likeable character. Viewers will easily be able to relate to her and sympathize with her. And Williams and Arkin, in small yet significant roles, bring both humor and magic to the film.

As you take the time this holiday season to reflect on the year, add Noel to your regular holiday movie rotation. It’s a powerful film that will make you thankful for everyone who’s touched your life in even the smallest of ways.

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