Phil Bray
Chris Nashawaty
December 04, 2013 AT 05:00 AM EST

Black Nativity

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
PG
runtime
95 minutes
Limited Release Date
11/27/13
performer
Angela Bassett, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker
director
Kasi Lemmons
distributor
Fox Searchlight Pictures
genre
Drama

We gave it a C

Kasi Lemmons’ Black Nativity is a lot like a glazed holiday ham: sticky, sweet, and all too easy to mess up. Based on Langston Hughes’ acclaimed 1961 gospel play, the film stars Jennifer Hudson as a single Baltimore mother who falls on hard times and decides to send her teenage son (newcomer Jacob Latimore) to Harlem to spend Christmas with her estranged parents. That those parents are played by Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker is one of the few saving graces of the movie. Their characters may be broad archetypes — he’s the stern and too-proud Baptist preacher, she’s the dispenser of hugs, wisdom, and sweet potato pies — but they do the most they can with them. Staged as a raise-the-roof Rent-style musical replete with an inner-city Mary-and-Joseph back-alley manger sequence, Black Nativity is so unabashedly melodramatic you almost have to admire its complete lack of cynicism. But while Hudson’s and costar Mary J. Blige’s soulful, stirring musical numbers are absolute dynamite, the rest of the film’s story is larded with enough soap opera twists and heavy-handed schmaltz that you’ll feel like you’re being bludgeoned with a hymnal. C

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