By BY JOHN MULDERIG, OSV News | Published November 16, 2023
NEW YORK (OSV News)—Swedish producer Adam Anders has long been associated with such peppy musical fare as the Fox TV series “Glee” and the big-screen comedy “Rock of Ages.” As he makes his directorial debut with the lively song and dance-filled film “Journey to Bethlehem” (Sony), that legacy is on full display.
Call it the jazz-hands Nativity story.
Anders’ script, which he co-wrote with Peter Barsocchini, chronicles Mary (Fiona Palomo) and Joseph’s (Milo Manheim) effort to add personal commitment to their arranged betrothal. It also follows a comic version of the Magi (Omid Djalili, Geno Segers and Rizwan Manji) on their long quest to worship the newborn Savior.
Before they can do so, however, the trio is forced to tangle both with evil King Herod (Antonio Banderas) and with his morally wavering son, Antipater (Joel Smallbone). The latter’s spiritual struggle constitutes one of the movie’s few substantive points. Though more fleeting, Mary’s reflections on her future, encapsulated in the song “Mother to a Savior and a King,” are moving.
Much of the incidental humor infused into the film to keep things rolling along, by contrast, feels strained. Still, there’s an upbeat tone to the production. So what it may lack in solemnity many will feel it makes up for with energy, pizzazz and unmistakable good intentions.
Regrettably, for those listening closely, the lyrics perpetuate the widespread confusion between the virginal conception of Jesus and the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The former miraculous circumstance, moreover, and the plight in which it places the mother-to-be—while, of course, essential to the plot—might prompt pesky questions from little ones.
That issue aside, “Journey to Bethlehem” is perfect fare for a wide range of age groups and just about the whole family. A zestful new take on the opening chapter of the greatest story ever told, it may be dismissed by curmudgeons with a curt “Bah, humbug!” but will likely win far more fans than detractors.
Those open to the movie’s lighthearted spirit will also recognize an inspiring message underlying the proceedings. Namely, that God has a greater destiny in store for each individual than he or she can readily imagine.
The film contains brief, highly choreographed physical violence. The OSV News classification is A-I— general patronage. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @JohnMulderig1.