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NativityDirector Catherine Hardwicke’s last two films, Thirteen and The Lords of Dogtown, were edgy examinations of teenage life that dealt with young people in crisis. Her latest film, The Nativity Story, revisits the theme, but this time her young protagonists, Mary and Joseph, have larger issues than acne or a spotty report card.

Hardwicke draws on the gospel of Matthew for the story of the Immaculate Conception and the reaction of Joseph, her family and neighbors in Nazareth who, at first, were skeptical of Mary’s claims that she was pregnant with the Son of God. It’s an interesting and realistic interpretation that should open up the story to further character exploration and dramatic possibility but unfortunately Hardwicke pulls back.

Unlike her previous films that brim with energy, The Nativity Story is staid, as though she was overwhelmed with piety for the story. She is faithful to the bible—apart from using the Three Wise Guys… er Men as comic relief—and adds in some interesting period details, but it never feels like we’re watching a movie about real people. Nor does it feel like we’re watching an epic tale. Hardwicke rests somewhere in the middle, closer to mundane than interesting.

The acting brings to mind Sunday School Christmas Nativity plays and suggests that perhaps the Oscar nod that young Australian actress Keisha Castle-Hughes, who plays Mary, received a few years ago might have been a tad premature.

The Nativity Story is a well meaning, but dry attempt to tell the story of the birth of Christ.

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