The Nativity Story
The most satisfying aspect of this Christian-oriented family drama is having the Virgin Mary played by a teenager - in this case, 16-year-old New Zealand actress Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was best known for her Academy Award nominated performance in "Whale Rider." Castle-Hughes approaches Mary with the soul of a genuine girl - this is not the angelic Madonna of the religious icons, but a child who veers from vulnerability to indefatigable strength as her life situation takes an extraordinary turn.
It is a wonderfully moving interpretation, which is highly refreshing in a production that covers extremely familiar terrain. Anyone who has spent Sundays in the pew (or at least watched any of the countless New Testament films that turn up every year in Christmas television broadcasts) will know how the story unfolds.
Nonetheless, the film strives to be different in some ways. A considerable level of depth is given to Mary's family bonds - the always-elegant Shohreh Aghdashloo turns up as Elizabeth - and Mary's relation with Joseph is presented with maturity and sincerity. It also helps to have handsome Guatemalan-born actor/singer Oscar Isaac as Joseph - his character has a lot more sex appeal than movie Josephs usually receive.
And for a bit of fun, the film re-imagines the Three Kings as a comedy relief trio who bicker and whine in their uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem. It may not be exactly how the New Testament reported the arrival of the Magi, but it adds to the film's entertainment quotient.
"The Nativity Story"
New Line Home Video
Blu-ray/DVD combo, $19.98
101 minutes, Rated PG