Sunday, December 01, 2013

Black Nativity

It amuses me that Regal's weekly email listed Black Nativity as a movie "picked just for you!"; I'm pretty darn Caucasian and as for the "nativity" part, well, no, I'm not religious at all. I figure the recommendation must have been based on having seen a few Bollywood movies there recently - it makes sense to recommend one sort of musical to someone who has been seeing another, right? I wound up seeing it at the Boston Common AMC, not so much out of any desire to deny Regal's prediction algorithms the pleasure of being correct (okay, maybe they don't feel pleasure, but I'd rather they not have this particular data point) as that I was sort of scouting the Downtown Crossing gift tent and Quincy Market for Christmas shopping, at that's the time and location that was most convenient.

I kind of wish I'd gone to the other theater instead, even if their emails would probably recommend I see some of the movies that had cringe-worthy previews before this one (I'm looking at you, A Madea Christmas, Heaven Is for Real, and Son of God), if only because this particular screening had some really annoying talkers. It's one thing when pests sit together in a group and kind of talk amongst themselves, but in this case, they sat in the handicapped row - the one that's level with the entryway, and instead of having a dozen rows, has two seats on either side and two more in the center, with spaces for wheelchairs in between - one per island, and talked back and forth across the space. And they just didn't stop; one lady stopped in front of the one making the most noise while apparently taking her daughter out to a restroom, probably asking them to keep quiet, but it didn't help. I was sitting diagonally behind him with my foot up on the railing, and I really wanted it to slip and kick him in the head.

The really weird thing, though, was that these guys really just didn't seem to get the idea of a musical at all. Every time someone started singing, it was loud comments about crack being wack, or was this supposed to be a dream, or how did characters in two separate cities know to be singing the same song? As a guy old enough to say "these kids today", I may sometimes joke about people not knowing how to watch a movie - as in, giving it their full attention and not acting like they're part of the show - but seeing people apparently actually not being able to process musical numbers, which have been a part of movies for as long as sound, as not being literally what the characters are experiencing but a way to communicate heightened emotion, is something else again.

It was frustrating that I almost considered not writing up the review, thinking that the way these guys kept interrupting the movie even in some of its more dramatic moments was coloring my experience enough that I couldn't just comment on what the film itself did for me. I think I've been mostly fair, although I do wonder if I would have experienced it more emotionally and not been so focused on it as a film if I'd seen it in a jackass-free audience.

Black Nativity

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 November 2013 at AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

It's not exactly uncommon for people to make musicals as relatively small as Black Nativity, although they generally don't have the likes of Fox releasing them wide or a cast full of familiar faces. The big studios tend to go big when they do something like this, but its the small independent nature of this movie that makes it interesting, even when it does seem to have a split personality.

It opens in Baltimore, where fifteen-year-old Langston Cobbs (Jacob Latimore) and his mother Naima (Jennifer Hudson) are facing eviction. Needing to work through the holidays, Naima sends Langston to Harlem to spend the week with the grandparents he's never met. Though grandmother Aretha (Angela Bassett) is unreservedly happy to see him, "The Reverend" Cornell (Forest Whitaker) is somewhat chilly, leading Langston to scheme for a way to get back home.

At least, that's the bit that most directly drives the story; being in New York with his grandparents naturally also gives him a chance to learn about his family history, but that's something that sort of comes and goes from the story until things start drawing together. The lack of a strong central narrative is something of a problem for this movie; while writer/director Kasi Lemmons seems to be trying for an intimate, character-focused picture, the audience doesn't get much of a chance to know Langston from his words and how he interacts with his environment, so his actions often seem random, and Jacob Latimore just doesn't seem to have the experience as an actor to pull everything Lemmons is trying to do into a cohesive character.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: