Ever since “Les Misérables” got both box office dollars and awards praise, many companies have been looking to get their own musical films off the ground. While many of the others are currently in development, Fox Searchlight brings us a contemporary imagining of an Off-Broadway play by Langston Hughes.
Review Score: 3.5/5
While the play, “Black Nativity,” was simply a retelling of the Nativity story with an all African-American cast, the film turns it into a story about a young man given the “oh-so-subtle” name of Langston, played by Jacob Latimore. He is sent to live with his estranged grandparents, played by Forest Whitaker and Angela Basset, in Harlem after he and his mother are evicted from their apartment in Baltimore.
The music in this film was mixed at best, with the story getting off to a slow start, having points later in the film that would’ve worked better as the beginning. There are some good numbers here and there, as we see more of a hip-hop and jazz-centric score.
However, much of it is negated by what can best be described as lazy blocking and cinematography. There are a few scenes that are mildly creative, particularly a dream sequence that actually takes a few artistic risks, but for the most part, it’s simply a lot of tight shots of the people singing with little to no choreography.
The story has some interesting moments, particularly at the end, but everything felt more akin to a TV holiday special as opposed to a feature film. It didn’t have the gravitas of large scale musical such as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” nor did it have some of the gritty realism as seen in “Les Misérables” and “Rent.”
Overall, “Black Nativity” felt like a rushed production that still found a way to be lazy with its execution. There were some good songs and the story really got going at the end, but there wasn’t really any heart to the film as a whole. If the film chose to be a simple drama, as opposed to a movie musical, it might’ve actually stood a chance. However, it’s not really worth seeing in theaters.
“Black Nativity” gets a 3.5/5.