Journey to Bethlehem
MOVIE | Great singing doesn’t drown out the historical inaccuracies and irreverent humor in this Christmas musical
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The Bible gives us plenty of detail in a small number of verses about the birth of Jesus, but with Journey to Bethlehem, filmmaker Adam Anders takes liberties with the story, focusing on what was going on with Joseph and Mary “in between the verses.”
The film treats Jesus’ earthly parents (Fiona Palomo and Milo Manheim) with respect, but it gives Mary a modern desire for a career, and Joseph comes across as somewhat bumbling and uncertain. An invented subplot about the arranged marriage of the young couple seems unnecessary.
King Herod (a brilliant Antonio Banderas) is troubled when magi tell him of a new king’s birth. He struts around, singing with pride and blasphemous glee, “Mine is the power, and the glory, and the kingdom!” The king’s son is conflicted: Will he follow in his father’s evil footsteps or forge his own path? The prince’s search for a pregnant virgin in Judea is just one of many historical inaccuracies.
In addition to imagined history, the film introduces humor, which could work if deftly handled—the characters were people, after all—but this humor is inappropriately irreverent. In one scene, the angel Gabriel (Lecrae) nervously rehearses his lines as he prepares to speak with Mary, and he bumps his head on an archway like one of the Three Stooges. Moreover, the magi behave like vaudevillian fools. Still, they do offer a beautiful counterpoint to Herod’s lyrics when they find Jesus and sing, “Thine is the power, and thine is the glory forever!”
Journey to Bethlehem is too flawed to warrant a recommendation, but great choreography and singing warrant a positive nod. The soundtrack may well have a more lasting impact in Christian homes than the film.
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