Britain has some great comic actors that the British film industry relies on heavily. My last review, Attack the Block, had Nick Frost lending some heavyweight, British comic actor support. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz wouldn’t have worked if it hadn’t been for the partnership of Frost and Pegg. The list of dependable British comic talent that can be used is pretty extensive, David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Paul Kay, Ricky Gervais, James Cordon, Richard Ayoade and Chris O’Dowd to name a few. You can’t rely solely on these actors to make your film work though.
People have tried before. Mitchell and Webb’s Magicians was nowhere near the calibre of Peep Show and James Cordon and Matt Horne’s Lesbian Vampire Killers was nothing like Gavin and Stacey (not just because it was rubbish!) Nativity tries the same trick with its cast, Martin Freeman, Marc Wootton and Ashley Jensen. I saw this cast, Martin Freeman and Ashley Jensen in particular and thought this could be a solid, gentle comedy set on the backdrop of Christmas.
I may have made a mistake by watching a Christmas film in March but then I believe a good film shouldn’t be accessible in just the season it is set in. I know I could comfortably watch Home Alone at any time of year and you never feel detached from Die Hard because it is set during Christmas. In fact one of the most Christmassy British films is Love Actually and I know I can watch that at any time of year too. The same can’t be said for Nativity.
I can’t guarantee that watching this film at Christmas would improve it but you may feel a little bit more sympathy for the adult characters which I didn’t. I didn’t really care that Martin Freeman missed his state-side girlfriend or that Marc Wootton’s Mr Poppy felt unappreciated and hated. In fact, if anything, the film was trying to make me cry just because it was Christmas. The sympathetic, love story parts of this film felt like they were applied with a shovel and demanded tears!
The problem was, I wanted a comedy film about competing Nativity plays. It didn’t have to be the best film I’d ever seen or so funny I cry but just amusing enough to pass a Sunday afternoon but it wasn’t funny. Marc Wootton was the only adult character that did make me laugh but even his immature, child-like adult got boring and predictable after the first forty-five minutes. Martin Freeman, who is usually dependable as a straight man to whoever is being the “crazy one” just seemed to be cruising through, waiting for the end of the film.
The saving grace of the film, the only aspect that made it worth a look, was the kids. The kids putting on the Nativity are brilliant. They are given the freedom to mess around, say ridiculous things and make fools themselves and are hilarious because of it. They are never the butt of the jokes but just by acting their age and reacting to each situation realistically they are really funny. If they were acting, it’s genius. If it isn’t acting then the director made a brilliant decision to let them react naturally.
The story manages to stay interesting enough and you do want Martin Freeman’s Nativity to be successful but when you do eventually see it and the film reaches its climax, you end up with an exaggerated, silly mess that feels, again, like it is relying too much on its Christmas setting and hoping the audience will suspend disbelief because of the season. I found myself baffled by the whole ending and wondering why I’d bothered to wait for the final product if it was just going to be this ridiculous.
Overall, this film isn’t awful and I think that if watched at Christmas, it might actually be appreciated a bit more. I still stand by the fact that you shouldn’t have to watch this film at Christmas to enjoy it. It relies too much on the star power of some of its actors, who just cruise along at best. It is worth a look for some of the brilliant “acting” by the children involved though.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)