Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Christmas Cameo Month: Noëlle

Noëlle (
or Mrs. Worthington’s Party) 2007

I realize that most of this month's films haven't been what people think of as Christmas movies, but this week’s film...Well, just look at that title! (The first, not the second title.) This is certainly a Christmas film with the Christian meaning of Christmas coming right through in its presentation of priests and the Church. 

Unfortunately, it's not very well made -- but that isn’t really our concern here at Movie Churches. It did win not one, but two awards at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (Best Director and Best American Indie Runner Up) but this film doesn’t make me want to seek out other Fort Lauderdale winners.

This film was written, directed, and produced by David Wall -- who also stars as Father Jonathan Keene, a priest who specializes in euthanizing churches that are struggling financially. He is sent to a small fishing village, Swan River, in Cape Cod.

Father Keene goes to the Sacred Heart Chapel. We can see from the church sign that the church used to have many services, but all have been scratched off the sign except for one service at 10:00 am on Sunday mornings. Keene goes in to see the pastor of the church, Father Simeon Joyce (Sean Patrick Brennan), but can’t find him on the property. He searches through the small town to find him and eventually discovers him at the Old Inn.

Father Joyce is with a group of other men at a table in the bar, quite drunk. Father Keene sees him, confronts him, and Father Joyce responds with a twisting of Scripture, saying he is practicing “being filled with the spirits.”

We find out that the priests went to seminary together. Joyce knows Keene’s current job and isn’t happy to see him. He rightly discerns Keene is there to decide whether Sacred Heart should be closed. He refers to Judas as he asks Keene, “Shouldn’t you greet me with a kiss?” Joyce calls Keene the “hitman” of the Archdiocese.

Keene attends a Sunday morning worship service with meager attendance and anemic worship. He confronts Joyce with attendance figures. Previously 150 people attended but attendance had fallen to twenty people. Joyce tells Keene that he may be right, “Maybe we are dead.” They have this discussion with the congregation listening (one woman sticks her tongue out at Keene).

Keene tells Father Joyce he might have a solution to the church’s problems. Christmas is coming and the church could do a live Nativity scene, with a real Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and wise men. Why he thinks this one-time gimmick will make a difference in the health of the church baffles me, but all agree.

The biggest challenge in doing this outdoor nativity scene is that almost everyone who attends the church is AARP eligible. All the men are really too old to play Joseph, but the real problem Father Keene recognizes is that any of the women available to play Mary have grey hair  -- which doesn’t work with the audition call sheet. So naturally, Father Keene thinks of recruiting the woman he met at the train station when he came to town, Marjorie Worthington. Majorie is played by Kerry Wall (yes, the wife of the producer, director, and star of the film. Kerry’s audition for the film must have been a real nail-biter.) 

The Walls had been married for twenty years when they made this film (and had three children), so Kerry wasn’t exactly ideal casting to play the teenage mother of the Son of God either, but…

Majorie doesn’t attend Sacred Heart Chapel, but her mother does. Her mother also throws a big Christmas Eve party every year, big enough to be one of the alternate titles of this film. Father Keene, however, wants to do his outdoor nativity scene in very cold weather with very old people at exactly the same time as the party. I don’t believe Father Keene went to any church growth seminars.

Keene makes a great effort to convince Majorie to play Mary. He finally convinces her, but soon everyone learns that Majorie, an unmarried woman, is pregnant. 

Father Keene tells her she can’t possibly play Mary in the church's nativity scene. After all, how can an unmarried pregnant woman possibly play Mary?

Even worse, the father of Majorie’s child is already married and isn’t interested in leaving his wife for Majorie. Having compassion for Majorie and her situation, Father Joyce offers to leave the priesthood and marry her. I guess he figures his church hasn’t been going that great anyway. But here is the big spoiler -instead Father Keene ends up leaving the priesthood and marries Majorie. You see, the only reason Keene entered the priesthood in the first place is that he got his girlfriend pregnant in college and forced her to have an abortion. He became a priest out of guilt, which is not exactly a calling.

But Father Keene’s last act as a priest is allowing Father Joyce’s church to stay open. And for unexplained reasons, we learn in an epilogue that the church grows in the next three years. Maybe a priest threatening to marry a parishioner spurs church growth? God does work in mysterious ways.

Anyway, two priests so anxious to abandon their vows leads us to give to the priests and church in this Christmas film two out of four steeples.

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