The Nativity Story
Rated PG; Directed by Catherine Hardwicke; Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac, Ciaran Hinds, Alexander Siddig, Shohreh Aghdashloo
What a lovely idea: a realistic movie that gives us the back story of Mary and Joseph. The Nativity Story focuses on young Mary, played by Keisha Castle-Hughes (The Whale Rider). The movie shows lots of promise, trying for something original, but it sometimes drifts into bad TV-movie territory.
Do I need to tell the story at the heart of this movie? Many of us have grown up with the tale of Mary and Joseph (Oscar Isaac) and the birth of Jesus. Where the movie works best is seeing the life of young Mary and Joseph. Joseph is attracted to Mary, while Mary doesn’t feel the same way. Their relationship gets even more complicated when the spooky/creepy angel Gabriel (Alexander Siddig) shows up and lets Mary know that she is going to have a very special baby.
Director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown) tries not to fall into the trap of being too afraid of the subject matter, but still plays it very safe. Some of the playing it safe is how Mary acts. Making the decision to have Mary remain serenely passive throughout makes for a more plodding picture. It’s Oscar Isaac who brings us a real character as Joseph.
When Joseph and Mary finally reach Bethlehem we get it all as expected and it is moving. How can it not be? The baby in the manger, the shepherds, the wise men – just try and not get teary-eyed.
The movie succeeds most when it strays from biblical verse and when it is most faithful it hits bad TV-movie status. Still, it is a lovely time of year for The Nativity Story.