Directed by Debbie Isitt
Starring Martin Freeman, Marc Wootton, Ashley Jensen, Jason Watkins and Pam Ferris
Christmas film review by Chris Olson
Christmas is often dubbed a time for children and a time for forgiveness, but Debbie Isitt’s near-unbearable British comedy, Nativity, starring Martin Freeman as a surly and beleaguered primary school teacher, tests the boundaries of what is acceptable to call of film and what viewers will stand for, when vast sections of it have been pasted together like a five-year-old’s art project.
Paul Maddens (Freeman) is a bit of a loser. He never amounted to much during acting school, then lost his girlfriend Jennifer (Ashley Jensen) to the lure of Hollywood, and spends his days teaching at an unremarkable primary school whilst his old school “friend” Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins, and yes that is his character’s name) has at least managed to earn himself a teaching post at a reputable school - and never missing a chance to rub Paul’s face in it.
During one particular face-rubbing, Paul snaps and creates a tiny white lie that Jennifer and her movie industry pals will be attending his, Paul’s, version of the Christmas nativity this year. Overhearing this falsity is feckless teaching assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton), who quickly reveals it to the whole school, creating a hubbub of immense proportions amongst the kids, staff and locals. At the risk of becoming an even bigger loser in the eyes of those around him, Mr Maddens allows the lie to grow and, with the calamitous help of Mr Poppy, begins a montage of merriment as he instructs his hopeless class towards theatrical glory whilst trying to figure out how to reunite with his old flame.
The best way to describe watching this film is like being forced to watch a recording from another parent’s kid doing a 90-minute X-Factor audition - and not one of those surprisingly good ones, no, those terrible ones where the child is more likely destined for Tesco than Top 10.
Isitt relies heavily on a cutesy appeal and stringing together endless mash-ups of hokey classroom antics, fumbling a really weak momentum towards the inevitable end performance which is riddled with one-dimensional character choices. Without being a parent, or really wanting to be one, many audience members will not voluntarily stay to the end of this movie, it is just too cringey. Freeman is his usual dry-humoured self and manages to arbitrarily lob in some emotional breakdowns that seem crowbarred in, but whenever the Christmas film veers away from his tentative hold it spirals into forgettable chaos.
The performances from the adult actors are hackneyed at best, and the poor kids are given so much screen time it feels like the studio was relying on all the parents and extended family buying tickets and DVDs to make a profit.