If you were one of the many holiday-minded moviegoers suckered into the dreadful “Four Christmases,” I have a different Advent film that might interest you.
Like so many holiday movies of recent years, “Four Christmases” is a hypocritical farce that has little to do with the Christian foundation of the season. The picture, about a young couple (Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon) forced to endure four yuletide gatherings in one day, spends most of its 83 minutes detailing the many ways our families are horrible burdens.
It ends, of course, with a completely false and unconvincing sequence extolling the importance of – you guessed it – family.
“Four Christmases” also features a fairly lame if benign comic set piece involving a church Nativity pageant. As Vaughn did his best Joseph impersonation and Witherspoon stood in for Mary, I couldn’t help thinking of a far superior cinematic Nativity story that was released on Christmas Day two years ago.
“Children of Men,” adapted by director Alfonso Cuaron from the P.D. James novel, has no explicit Christmas connection, but consider the basic narrative. In an infertile future which has not seen a newborn for years, a young woman miraculously becomes pregnant. Because the child is a threat to the powers that be, a reluctant protector (Clive Owen) attempts to shepherd her to safety.
Sound familiar? Though “Children of Men” is set in one of those dystopian futures rather than the days of Herod, the movie brings to vivid life the sense of urgency and terror that must have been part of the original Christmas story. And, in its quietly exhilarating final moment (which I’ll leave unspoiled for those of you who haven’t seen it), the picture captures what the Incarnation is all about: hope.
Certainly “Children of Men” does that more than another, far more specific Christmas movie that came out only a few weeks earlier in 2006: “The Nativity Story.”
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke – the auteur behind the recent “Twilight” – “The Nativity Story” is one of those musty old costume dramas that panders to the Christian audience by playing things drearily safe. Keisha Castle-Hughes, the youngster who charmed audiences in “Whale Rider” plays an age-appropriate Mary, yet even she has been made extremely cautious by the entire undertaking. I’ve seen more emotive Marys at Christmas pageants in preschools.
Often this is what we have to pick from when it comes to cinematic Christmas tales. If it’s not an inert and literal Biblical drama such as “The Nativity Story,” it’s a soulless contemporary comedy such as “Four Christmases.” If we’re not being pandered to, we’re being lampooned.
“Children of Men” takes neither of these familiar approaches, which may be why it flew under the radar for so many audiences, including religious ones. True, it’s not the sort of endearing Christmas movie you’ll want to cuddle up with each year as part of your family’s yuletide tradition, but in its own way it’s an Advent picture to treasure.
What other Christmas movies – unconventional or otherwise – have captured the season’s true spirit for you?