If Christmastime is supposed to a joyous period in a person’s life, I never would have guessed after watching Noel. If ever there needed to be a film to counter all of the upbeat, happy and downright peppy films of December holiday season, this is the one. Almost all of the time we watch these characters, they’re having a terrible time on either Christmas Eve or the big day itself.

This is an ensemble film with a few main stories. I’ll list characters and situations before diving further into them. We spend more time with Rose (Susan Sarandon) than any other character. She’s alone in life, not having many friends, a significant other, or much family. Her father died and her mother has been struck by Alzheimer’s. Her mother has trouble even attempting to eat food, and Rose knows that the elderly woman doesn’t even recognize her face.

The next story involves Mike (Paul Walker) and Nina (Penélope Cruz). They’re due to be married in a week, but thanks to Mike’s constant jealousy, Nina is having second thoughts. She leaves and comes back all throughout the film, taking a taxi each time. I figure this might have been her most expensive Christmas yet. Mike’s involved in a separate story too, involving a restaurant waiter named Artie (Alan Arkin), who claims to recognize him despite Mike having never seen him before. What’s weird is that Artie even knows his favorite type of cookie. I kept wanting a cookie while watching this film, as one might have helped cheer me up.

There’s also a man named Jules (Marcus Thomas) who we learn had his best Christmas at the age of 14, when he had his nose broken and had to spend the night at the hospital, which was having a party. He spends most of his time either reminiscing about that night, or attempting to land in the hospital so that he can have another party.

I’ll say this right away: This is not the film for you to sit down with your family and watch during the holidays. For most of the time, it’s not a lot of fun. Emotionally involving, sure, but if you want a feel-good film for the whole family, look elsewhere. (It is only rated PG, though, so I suppose if your family enjoys having a good cry together, then maybe this is the film for you.)

The storylines don’t intertwine like one might expect from this type of film. Characters definitely pass by one another and go to the same places, but there are few interactions. The only significant one that occurs out of the people I mentioned comes from Rose and Nina, although they go out for a drink and then never see one another again. That doesn’t make the time they spend together unimportant though, as it does help advance characters by having them give one another a pep talk.

I’ve skipped over one character who appears more prominently later in the film. He shows up in one of the earliest scenes in what I originally assumed to be a cameo, but it turns out that he plays a pivotal role near the end. I’m leaving him out of my description because he chose to go uncredited, and I think I know why. If he were to be credited, it might ruin what can be called one of the major turns in the plot. I’ll let you spoil that for you if you want, but I’d recommend leaving it for you to discover for yourself if you ever plan to watch Noel.

I was a little bit taken aback by this film. I’m fine with admitting that. It was nothing like I expected it would be, especially in terms of tone and what it brought to the table. There are few happy moments in this film, even if there may be some optimism given by the ending (at least, that’s the case in some of the stories). I almost think it’s worth a second viewing going in knowing what to expect so that the initial shock of “wow, this isn’t a very happy film” is lessened.

Overall, I think it’s a well-made film that deserves a watch, even if it’ll probably have a very difficult time finding an audience. If it wasn’t set around the holiday season, and instead was just a film about the unenviable lives of some people, maybe it would have been much easier to initially accept. But setting it in a period that where you only want to feel happy and you don’t want to watch misery for 90 minutes means that a lot of people simply won’t want to watch it.

I think that’s too bad, but I completely understand it. Noel isn’t enjoyable, at least not on the level of “I’m having a good time while watching this.” The characters get some development, the dialogue generally works, the plot is kept tight and features a couple of surprises, most of the actors pull their weight — all of the makings of a good film are here. It’s just set in a period that makes it all the more difficult to watch. Who wants to be sad on Christmas or Christmas Eve?

Noel is a good film that I can’t recommend you watch. Why not? It’s not an enjoyable Christmas movie, that’s why. I don’t want you to put this in your DVD player, sit down as a family and then watch a bunch of people live depressing lives for 90 minutes during your holidays. However, if you do want that type of film, for whatever reason for watching during whatever time, then it’s a pretty good one with a well-structured plot and a good enough cast to hold it together.