"Nativity!", Mirrorball Films, 2009
One of the very few middle-of-the-road late 2000s British Christmas movies that managed to make a semblance of a cultural splash as the beloved 'Love Actually', Debbie Isitt's celebrated debut feature is telling of her awkward transition from theatre to screen. Despite the spare touching moments that makes the family-christmas-film-isms all her own, the refreshing maturity she shoots for is ultimately drowned out by a shoddy attempt at dry British wit that begs to be as hap-handedly resonant as anything Richard Curtis could ever effortlessly achieve.
There is very clearly weight underneath the feel-good surface, and the familiar story of learning to love Christmas again as a cynical adult is, in all fairness, spun in a way that admirably commits to its Primary-school energy and unique concept. The backdrop of broken dreams and the way in which the narrative plunges into the lie Martin Freeman's Scrooge character is falling into is actually somewhat profound when you think about it. With all that being said, it's dry candid shell that comes from the childish sense of competition and spite which underpins the screenplay means that it manages to overshoot in some areas and undershoot in others. From the whole misunderstanding trope to its blandly shot studio style that already feels dated, Isitt limits herself to the sparse and unfiltered celebratory moments to make a significant landing. This rolls into the comedy, slapping audiences with shouting and loud noises rather than carefully-created jokes tailored to the film's cheeky personality. The writing's desperate attempts at Richard Curtis' brilliantly blunt stylings are ironed out by the boring melodramatic beats and downright annoying characters, forgetting actually how interesting and complex of a mantlepiece Paul is most of the time. The irritating pace quickly wants to move audiences onto the next bit rather than letting scenes breath - even children can appreciate a little bit of quiet introspection, surly.
All in all, its as if Isitt gives herself the room to introduce something cute and relatable rather than Hollywood and sensational, but then decides to fill it with trite ham-fisted quirks, making it a painfully average Christmas flick.