An unexpectedly enjoyable little family film for the holidays, what "Nativity!" (because it's not just nativity, it's NATIVITY) lacks in production value, it makes up for with a lot of heart and a sweet script (although some moments certainly seem improvised.) The cover art - which makes the picture look obnoxious and wacky - doesn't do it justice. The film stars Martin Freeman (of the British version of "The Office") as Mr. Maddens, an elementary school teacher dismayed over a break-up with his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer (Ashley Jensen), who has gone on to become a producer in Hollywood.
Formerly a hopeful and optimistic actor, when things weren't going the way he hoped, he decided to become a teacher instead. He spends his days being a miserable grouch to the children, and he especially dislikes Christmas. However, when it , the little school's head teacher (Pam Ferris) tells him to pull together a nativity play - a nativity play that will outshine the one that's being put on by the rival school, where his former friend, Gordon (Jason Watkins) teaches.
Madden is balanced out by Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton), an amusingly child-like co-worker who delights the children - because he acts like one - but infuriates Maddens. Nothing about the film is really surprising in the slightest - Madden has to figure out how to tell the school the truth after he made a promise about Hollywood coming to town, there's a casting scene, Maddens will see Jennifer again, etc. In fact, I don't think there was anything surprising about the story.
So, why did I find it enjoyable? Performances and tone. Freeman offers a delightful lead effort and does a fine job portraying the transformation by Maddens away from being a grinch. Additionally, supporting efforts from Watkins and others are enjoyable, as well. The film's approach to the tone is also a welcome relief: I half expected a loud and obnoxious film, given the cover - and what I got was a nice, fairly subtle (but not too restrained) family holiday film with a touch of British wit. For the most part, the children actually seem like nice, normal children instead of hyperactive brats.
"Nativity" isn't going to fall onto the list of Christmas classics - it's about 15 minutes too long, a few moments are a bit tough to believe and it has a few moments of heavy-handed sappiness - but it's mostly a very enjoyable effort, with first-rate performances.
VIDEO: "Nativity!" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer appears to represent the film accurately. Sharpness and detail are acceptable, as while not crystal clear, the picture appeared consistently smooth and reasonably well-defined. A few minor instances of print flaws were spotted, but the presentation otherwise looked clear and clean, with no edge enhancement, pixelation or additional concerns. Colors looked bright and warm, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: Clear, well-recorded Dolby Digital 5.1. Certainly no fireworks at all, but clear, easily understood dialogue and crisp music.
EXTRAS: The trailer.
Final Thoughts: A fun little holiday film with solid performances, while "Nativity!" (almost forgot the !) isn't going to be a holiday classic, I found it surprisingly charming. The DVD offers fine audio/video quality, along with a next-to-no extras. Recommended.