Joey Travolta’s Carol of the Bells tells the touching story of a young man with a troubled past and his ultimate redemption.
Scott Johnson is a loving husband and father who staunchly refuses to celebrate Christmas, much to the chagrin of his wife, Karen, and his young son, Jeremy.
He has his reasons. When he was five years old, a tragic car accident occurred during that holiday, killing his adoptive parents and leaving him seriously injured. As a result, he spent his childhood spiraling through the foster care system. No one else wanted to adopt him because he’s “damaged.”
This Christmas, however, his life is about to change. He’d been secretly searching for his birth mother for a while, and the PI he’d hired has finally located her.
Scott has always blamed this woman (whom he’d never even met) for all the misery in his life and seeks some sort of closure from her. But he is shocked to find out that she is developmentally disabled. Her name is Carol, and she lives in a group home just an hour away.
He drives to the facility but is unable to muster the courage to get out of his car and talk to her. When he returns home, he gives up his secret to Karen, but neglects to tell her about Carol’s condition.
Karen decides to take matters into her own hands and goes to Carol’s residence herself. She is also taken aback at first, but Carol’s openness and longing to be reunited with her son wins her over. She is determined to bring Scott and Carol together for Christmas, no matter what it takes.
Travolta’s film, scripted by JC Peterson, travels familiar territory, but does so in a moving way. The small-town atmosphere is ideal for this gentle lament, and the director brings out some nice performances from his cast.
RJ Mitte (Breaking Bad) does fine work as Scott, even though he’s never quite as Grinch-y as he’s supposed to be. Andrea F. Friedman, who has Down syndrome in real life, is quite touching as Carol. The real star of the piece is Yuly Mireles (Animal Kingdom), who holds everything together as Karen, who only wants her family to be happy.
Other cast members are good (and certainly nostalgic), including Donna Mills (Knot’s Landing), Donna Pescow (Saturday Night Fever) and Lee Purcell (Murder, She Wrote).
Travolta’s company, Inclusion Films, utilized a production crew that was 70 percent developmentally disabled, and that’s certainly something to be commended.
Although it’s a bit too deliberately paced at times and frequently wears its heart on its sleeve, Carol of the Bells nevertheless delivers a quietly emotional punch. It will be released on DVD and digital on Mar. 3 from High Octane Pictures.
Feature photo: RJ Mitte and Yuly Mireles (High Octane Pictures).