Movie review: “Black Nativity” preaches to the choir

By Columbus Alive
From the November 28, 2013 edition

Holiday movies are meant to fill a little nostalgic hole, meant for a specific time and mood. Like scary movies released at Halloween, sometimes they don’t even have to be very good to do their job.

“Black Nativity” fits that bill. It’s a warm film, but flawed. But, hey, ’tis the season, right?

Director Kasi Lemmons adapts the beloved Langston Hughes play to the present day for the screen. A streetwise Baltimore teen (Jacob Latimore) is sent by his mother (Jennifer Hudson) to stay with his grandparents (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett) in Harlem.

To call “Black Nativity” preachy isn’t necessarily a critique; the entire film is essentially built around a closing sermon (and the peak of the melodrama that builds to it).

I’m a tough sell for musicals, and I found this movie’s tendency to only occasionally dip into song to be distracting. There’s just something about two people bursting into a song on a bus while other passengers gaze ahead obliviously I just can’t buy into.

Despite a really great cast, the production feels small for the big screen, perhaps better suited to another tradition: the holiday TV special.

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight