We go back a few years to reprint this review of a good film for the Christmas Season.
Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 36 min.
Our contents rating (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way…
1 Cor. 13:4-5
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
1 John 4:16b
Chazz Palminteri, who gave us the wonderful A Bronx Tale, a film about the tug of war between a father and a local gangster for the affections of a boy, directs this warm Holiday special about how the lives of five lonely, and in some cases tormented, city dwellers intersect during one Christmas Eve. If you are looking for another warm, sentimental film because you have already done It’s a Wonderful Life to death, this might be your film. It has a mysterious, perhaps even miraculous stranger; an affirmation of the importance of love; and the restoration of faith—what more could one ask for in a Holiday movie? Well, maybe more of an affirmation that Christmas is really more about Christ than generalized good will, but this film will do well until that film comes along—especially because it stars Susan Sarandon, who brings class to any film she is in. And there is a surprise, an uncredited star who plays more than a cameo role. I would love to say who it is, but don’t want to spoil your fun of discovering him (oops, that’s more than I should be saying).
Rose (Sarandon) is the first of the lonely people whom we see, walking by the giant Christmas tree in New York’s Rockefeller Center while a chorus of nun’s sing a lovely carol. Clad in her winter coat, Rose treads cautiously because of the snow and ice. She works in one of the office towers as an editor of children’s books. Long divorced, she has spent most of her adult life taking care of her parents, first her father until his death. Now she practically lives at the hospital where her mother is an Alzheimer patient.
Mike (Paul Walker) is a policeman who seems to be hitting on a beautiful pedestrian whom he addresses from his patrol car. We soon learn that his “pick-up” is Nina (Penelope Cruz), his fiancé whom he plans to marry next week. They hurry to his apartment so that they can make love during his lunch break. However, we quickly learn that he has a problem with jealousy. When he drops off Nina later and he sees her go inside and embrace another man, he lingers to see more of what transpires. As their story progresses, Nina becomes very anxious about whether she should continue with their relationship—would she be making a great mistake in marrying such a volatile, jealous man.
Jules (Marcus Thomas) is our fourth lonely person, a street hustler. So lonely on this Christmas Eve that he recalls the time when he was a boy in the hospital where he enjoyed so much the Christmas party shared by patients and medical staff. So desperate is he for fellowship that he persuades a friend to take him to a gangster whom he pays to smash his left hand. He then goes to the emergency room of the hospital, not really so much for treatment as for the expected Christmas party that evening. He is surprised to find bedlam there due to the arrival of the victims of a bus crash. No party this Christmas Eve–but maybe something better, something to do with his past estrangement from his family.
A little later, while Mike is in a café on a coffee break, the fifth lonely person enters the story. He is Artie (Alan Arkin), counterman at the restaurant, who keeps giving Mike such a look that even the policeman’s partner notices—and jumps to the wrong conclusion about the guy’s sex. Artie follows Mike to his apartment and reveals the reason for his disconcerting obsession with the cop. The alarmed Mike kicks Artie out, but discovers that he is a long way from being through with the man.
Screenwriter David Hubbard has skillfully woven together the stories of these five desperate people to create a mosaic of loneliness, guilt, jealousy, love, and forgiveness—and yes, we should add, miracle and mystery. The critics were not kind to the film when TNT presented it in 2004. I think it is a film that you will not soon forget.