Earnest, hopelessly confused and ultimately condescending, Black Nativity
is little more than a gussied-up Lifetime holiday movie with a few A-list stars. Based on Langston Hughes’ holiday play of the same name, it centers on angsty teenager Langston (one of many unsubtle monikers), who’s shipped off to his grandparents’ Harlem Brownstone after he and his mom are evicted from their Baltimore apartment. It’s the first time Langston has met this dignified couple, played by a detached Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett, who’ve long been estranged from their daughter. There are some near-chuckles on the route to personal redemption and domestic reconciliation, including a moment when Whitaker prays for a belt to help hold up his grandson’s baggy jeans. But for the most part, director Kasi Lemmons is doggedly sincere, even fashioning a homeless, pregnant couple as a modern-day Mary and Joseph. Incongruous musical numbers pepper the film: In one hallucinatory scene, Langston stumbles through an Old World version of Times Square filled with camels and ads for iStones. Mary J. Blige sports wings and a silver Afro. Nas raps by the manger. It’s almost weird enough to be interesting, but the patronizing tone sabotages any chance it had. Langston may blandly declare the final church service a “Christmas miracle,” but the movie is anything but.