Director: Kasi Lemmons
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige and Nas
Running Time: 93 minutes
Release Date: December 6th
It appears that the ‘grim and gritty’ treatment has even crept its turgid way into the Christmas film genre, for such is the approach of Black Nativity, a hapless Christmas Turkey that falls on its gormless face at every opportunity. The film is both dank and humourless, but nonetheless forces forgettable ditties (that seem wholly out of place in the depressing landscape of the film) down the throats of the audience. Despite the evident integrity of director Kasi Lemmons, so automatically tuned are the voices of the respective actors that it becomes less and less difficult to recognise the stench of a snivelling, money-grubbing executive producer ticking the boxes of a spreadsheet marked ‘2013 Christmas Movie’.
The plot sees struggling single-mother Jennifer Hudson having to ship her beloved 15-year old son Langston (named after the poet who wrote the original stage play, a fact which is practically painted over in the film) to the well-to-do Harlem household of her estranged parents, played by Forest Whitaker (who surely has a hefty tax bill to pay off) and potential Razzie nominee Angela Bassett (who injects every line of dialogue with chilling Stepfordian glee.) Whitaker’s hard-edged grandpa is a Christian Reverend you see, and seeks to imbue Langston with the noble virtues of the Lord, Our Saviour. This, of course, is the downfall of a film already spiralling into a flaming abyss — by spearheading the direction of the film toward the righteousness of Christianity, the already schmaltzy film drifts ever more toward the preposterous with drawn-out allegorical dream sequences and gospel music that may have served the 1960s stage play well, but is dead on arrival in this theatrical effort.
The film’s apparent ethnic importance is all but ignored as well, as initial subplots involving a pocket-watch given to Whitaker’s character by Martin Luther King are washed away in favour of the usual find-the-missing-parent formula. This all boils up to a farcical finale with some of the worst dialogue of the year (“Can’t you see Mom? “This is my Christmas miracle!” “Praise Jesus!”) Every member of the family will be embarrassed.
To its credit, Black Nativity can at least boast a certain degree of cinematic integrity — most of the primary actors try their best including Whitaker who is at least very good and doesn’t appear to be phoning it in — but all is lost when the dreadful singing starts. Ultimately, there’s very little that redeems this self-important, indulgent mess and while it’s very clearly aimed at a specific demographic, one wonders if even they will be entertained.