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Hallmark closes out its second weekend of holiday programming with Joyeux Noel. This international romance stars Jaicy Elliot and Brant Daugherty — who also cowrote the movie with his wife, Kim Daugherty. The movie takes us far away from Connecticut, where every Hallmark movie seems to be set this year, as our leads try to uncover the truth behind a lost French love story. But is this a story worth publishing? Or should this one have stayed locked in a music box?


The Gist: Jaicy Elliot (Grey’s Anatomy) plays Lea, a copy editor for a big city newspaper who dreams of two things: becoming a published journalist and finding a doctor of medium height to marry. Her mom, however, thinks she’s being too picky and waiting for the perfect love story — and then Lea finds one, although this love story is not her own. Lea finds the story written in a journal stashed in a music box that she from an antique store. Coincidentally — or is it fate? — the journal happens to belong to a mysterious midcentury French painter whose portrait of a lone woman standing alone in a Christmas market has captured the public’s imagination. Who is this woman? Who is the painter? How does the love story in the journal end?

That’s Lea’s pitch to her editor, who is in need of a big story for the annual Christmas edition of the paper. Lea’s editor assigns the story… to grumpy hard news reporter Mark. Mark (#Xmas’ Brant Daugherty) doesn’t want this assignment but, as his editor says, he is around — and so is Lea, who doesn’t have a degree in journalism but she does possess a passion for love stories as well as the journal with all the clues pertaining to the painter’s identity. Lea’s in.

From there, Lea and Mark travel to a tiny village in Paris where they intend to retrace the romance detailed in the journal and determine once and for all if there’s any truth to the legend of a magic Christmas market where people are fated to fall in love. Lea and Mark should be safe, though. They’re polar opposites! Even if the legend is real, there’s no way they will fall in love with each other… right?

Photo: Hallmark

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: This feels like the second half of a double feature that began in February when Hallmark aired A Paris Proposal.

Performance Worth Watching: The French actors are all fantastic and bring authenticity to Hallmark’s depiction of a tiny European town. Ciara Prioux is particularly great as Sophie, the hotelier’s excitable, quasi-con-artist pre-teen daughter. Her dynamic with Daugherty is especially delightful as she tries to impress him with her reporter skills — and then pranks him when he doesn’t “leave a gift out for the gnomes.” I will also run the way Prioux delivers the line “I’m Freeench. I stay up late” through my head all season long.

Memorable Dialogue: Mark’s advice: “You want to be a good reporter, Lea? Here’s a tip: Expect the worst. It’s always the worst.”

A Holiday Tradition: Of course every single newspaper needs an attention-grabbing feature story for Christmas morning. It’s just part of American tradition, grabbing the newspaper from the driveway before breakfast and reading the annual holiday love story to everyone gathered around the table. This is something we all do, every year, and have for hundreds of years.

As for Sophie’s gnome scam — my cursory Google search revealed that gnomes are a big part of the holidays in Scandinavian countries… so, not France. And the tradition isn’t that you leave a gift for a gnome, but that the gnomes bring gifts for kids on Christmas Eve. Listen: tradition or not, Sophie’s going to get trinkets and snacks out of the hotel’s guests one way or another.

Does the Title Make Any Sense?: Joyeux Noel is how they say “merry Christmas” in France, so it’s appropriate, if generically so. Something like Marché de Noël (The Christmas Market) would be a little more specific, and they actually say that phrase in the movie.

Photo: Hallmark

Our Take: After holiday movies set in the Midwest and New England, Joyeux Noel kicks off 2023’s set of globetrotting Hallmark movies. We’ll visit Germany, Scotland, and a Christmas island before the season’s over, but right now we’re going to France. And unlike nearly every other Hallmark movie, which make Canada look like Kansas and Connecticut, Joyeux Noel actually filmed in France. You can tell, as the film has a distinctly different feel from the rest of Hallmark’s lineup so far. There’s a lived-in feel to the locations, and it helps vary the kinds of holiday aesthetics that we see on the network. We see Small Town U.S.A. get dressed up for the holidays all the time, but Small Town, France? This is downright cultured.

With such a unique setting, Joyeux Noel can’t help but be a bit unique in story. Okay, using a love story mystery to bring two people together in time for their own holiday romance is familiar (2020’s The Christmas Setup comes to mind), but it’s not worn out. And giving Mark and Lea a task to complete, one that’s genuinely a challenge, takes care of a lot of necessary plot elements. It gets them in a unique place, gives them a list of tasks to complete and people to meet, and the shared struggle of trying to solve a 70-year-old mystery is enough to turn co-workers into something that needs to be reported to HR (in a good way). All of this makes Joyeux Noel a fun watch that moves at a nice clip.

Photo: Hallmark

Really, hats off — or berets off? — to Elliot and Daugherty for finding and fostering chemistry between these two characters, because it’s rare that a male lead is as combative and standoffish as Mark. But through the required getting to know you scenes, the script works in reasonable justifications for his ‘tude and finds points of connection for Mark and Lea that feel right and real. And I gotta admit — the Christmas market where the majority of the film takes place is so quaint and cozy, I could buy any two Hallmark characters falling in love there. It’s like Galaxy’s Edge, but for Christmas!

Our Call: STREAM IT. Joyeux Noel makes for a delightful first stop on the 2023 Hallmark Holiday World Tour.

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