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The Essential Guide to Bristol
02 December 2009
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Nativity! (U)

The ViewBristol Review

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Review byMatthew Turner25/11/2009

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 105 mins

Watchable comedy that's almost redeemed by some surprisingly good musical numbers but they're not quite enough to compensate for the badly written script, unlikeable characters and depressing lack of laughs.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Debbit Isitt, Nativity! stars Martin Freeman as Midlands primary school teacher Paul Maddens, who's been depressed since his girlfriend Jennifer (Ashley Jensen) left him at Christmas, five years ago, to pursue a Hollywood career. Meanwhile, Paul and Jennifer's ex-drama school colleague Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) has become Paul's chief rival, thanks to the acclaimed Christmas shows he puts on as the drama teacher at a nearby posh school.

After being put in charge of the school Nativity play by Headmistress Mrs Bevan (Pam Ferris), Paul unexpectedly bumps into Gordon and lies to him about Hollywood interest in their production, promising that Jennifer will be flying over to see it. However, he's overheard by his moronic classroom assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton) and soon the lie spirals out of control, making his Nativity play the talk of the town.

The Good
The cast do their best, under the circumstances, but the characters are at best underwritten and at worst flat-out unlikeable - Wootton's Mr Poppy is the most eminently slappable character in recent memory. Fortunately, the impossibly cute kids are a right bunch of scene-stealers and Isitt milks them for all they're worth, most notably during an auditions montage that seems to go on forever.

That said, the songs (co-written by Isitt and Nicky Ager) are surprisingly catchy and the imaginatively staged final act almost redeems the rest of the film.

The Bad
The biggest problem is the script, which is poorly constructed and unconvincing on every level. It also takes frequent lurches into ridiculousness, such as the scene in which Mr Poppy takes the entire class to see a baby being born or a pointless interlude where Paul takes two random kids to Los Angeles.

All this would be fine if the film was ever actually funny, but it never gets close and by the time you get to the chocolate fountain scene, you'll be praying for the film to end.

Worth seeing?
Nativity! is just about watchable thanks to the entertaining finale but it could have been a lot better with a judicious rewrite or two.
Nativity Clip - Rehearsal

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Nativity! (U)
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