We all have those Christmas movies we pull out year after year. For me, it’s a pretty lengthy list that includes Bad Santa, Love Actually, The Family Stone, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and Meet Me in St. Louis. And every Christmas, I try to find new additions to the canon. Netflix Instant has an entire section devoted to streaming holiday fare, but sadly, most of it is more like steaming holiday fare. The gluttony of ludicrously subpar ABC Family and Hallmark Channel movies (I’m looking at you, The Christmas Bunny) will have you reaching for those old favorites and forgoing anything new. But if you skip all the streaming Netflix holiday selections, you will miss out on the brilliant Nativity!, the latest addition to my own Christmas canon.
Released in the UK in 2009, Nativity! stars the perennially perfect Martin Freeman (The Office, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). No one does adorable sad-sacks better than him. He is basically the British Charlie Brown. In Nativity!, Freeman stars as adorable sad-sack Paul Maddens, a primary school teacher whose Christmas spirit (and heart) is broken because his girlfriend (the luminous Ashley Jensen, best known stateside for Ugly Betty and Extras) dumped him on Christmas five years prior and is now charged with putting on the school’s nativity play, very much against his will. While that setup could in fact easily be turned into a crappy American cable movie, in the hands of these British filmmakers, it turns into something funny and sweet that marries sharp satire with tear-inducing warmth. I mean, the villain, a rival Nativity-play producer at a ritzy private school, is named Gordon Shakespeare, which is just awesome. And he is played by the great Jason Watkins (Herrick from Being Human). The kids are also delightful, and the original songs from the Nativity production will be playing in your head even days later. And there are donkeys!