When it comes to the nativity story, reenactments should be left to the kids.
The Nativity Story
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Starring: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac
Opens Fri., Dec. 1
"It's a journey of over 100 miles, through treacherous terrain, made much more difficult by the fact that Mary is nine months pregnant." And on the way she and Joseph have to fight off grizzly bears and cougars, all while keeping the Thanksgiving cake safe. Oh, hang on--that's The Magic of Lassie. Same plot, different movie.
Following The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Passion of the Christ comes yet another movie designed to fleece rural simpletons. There's gold in them there hillbillies.
And how could this flick lose? The story of how Mary convinced Joseph she'd been impregnated by a ghost and the baby who was born in a barn and visited by shepherds and kings has been acted out by cuddly Christian kids for generations. Thus the tale is inextricably tangled up in our heads with notions of innocence and cuteness. Which means our critical faculties are on hold. Because what sort of kid-hating rotter is going to yell: "But this story is just silly made-up rubbish! And that's so obviously a fake beard. What a rip. Boo!"
Nah, we switch off our brains and suck up the cute.
Which is why it's utter madness to cast this film with proper grownup actors. With the cute-goggles removed, it's all but impossible for a reasonably intelligent adult not to spend the entire 101 minutes snorting with contempt at the patently absurd antihistorical cobbling together of assorted pagan and Jewish fairy tales.
That said, Nativity's attention to historical detail is astounding. Not only do all the cast members look passably Middle Eastern, but the clothes, the ploughs, the cheese--even the uniforms worn by wicked King Herod's evil tax collectors--everything smacks of old-school first-century Palestinian authenticity.
Except the plot. Things start to go wrong in the first few minutes when God tells an old bloke to impregnate his aging wife with the baby who'll grow up to be John the Baptist. The old bloke quite naturally asks a few polite questions, so God strikes the geezer dumb.
For a start, this obviously never happened--which makes all the historical accuracy a complete waste of time. And if it did, it means God is a petulant dickhead. So why worship the idiot? And more important, if you knew that the genocidal lunatic responsible for the Hitler-on-steroids atrocities of the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah was going to beget a son, wouldn't it be your Christian/Jewish/humanitarian duty to kidnap the poor little bugger away from his patently insane pa? Before he raped him or sacrificed him or had him crucified or something?
Sadly, despite its many mindstretching contradictions, Nativity is in no way as entertaining as Jesus Christ Superstar, Monty Python's Life of Brian or How the Grinch Stole Christmas--all of which cover pretty much the same ground.
What's the point of getting all gritty and sweaty and real--and then having angels with mad, starry eyes and neatly trimmed beards swanning about doing ooga-booga spooky magic tricks? Not to mention completely ridiculous and historically inaccurate plot twists like King Herod having everybody return to their hometown for a census. Why would you do that? Rather than just ask people where they were born on the census form? Can you believe people built a religion out of this hogwash?
This is the danger of having adults act out fairy tales. It presses the WTF? button big-time.
One imagines Nativity's core audience will be Christian youth groups. That should work out fine--right up to where Mary claims to have been knocked up by a "holy ghost." Those Christian kids with inadequate brainwashing will start snickering at this point, while those with too much will scream, "Stone the fornicating bitch!" and hurl their shoes at the screen.
But it's the kids in the middle I feel sorry for. Torn between 21st-century common sense and bronze-age mumbo-jumbo, the stupendous ridiculousness of Nativity might well fry their brains, sending them screaming into the night to restart their lives as meth dealers, whores, heavy metal guitarists and outlaw bikers.
"Discover the true meaning of Christmas," says the blurb. I will--drunk and gorged with my loved ones, safely insulated from the spirit-withering superstitious crap that ruins the holiday season for millions. Happy yule! Ho ho ho!