It’s our 2nd Forest Whitaker musical of the month, and I’m not complaining. Once again playing a rather stern figure who may need to rethink his priorities, will this week’s pick recapture the magic of Jingle Jangle? I mean, will anything?
Facing eviction ahead of the holidays, a Baltimore mother sends her son to stay with his grandparents as he unravels family secrets and inevitably learns the true meaning of Christmas.
Named for the Harlem Renaissance poet (and playwright who scripted the inspiration for our film), our young hero Langston is experiencing a rather unhappy Christmas season. On the brink of eviction from their Baltimore home, his mother Naima sends Langston to stay with his estranged grandparents in Harlem for the holidays. Promising to join her son soon, it seems impossible that Naima will follow through on this.
Less than stoked to spend time with his grandparents, who share a troubled relationship with their daughter, Langston’s trip goes from bad to worse when he steps off the bus and immediately loses his backpack to a thief. Even more aggravating is his arrest after being accused of stealing a guest’s wallet in a hotel lobby.
Luckily, Langston’s grandfather, the Reverend Cornell Cobbs, picks him up from jail…though is less than understanding. Langston fails to score points as a grandchild by expressing confusion that the family says grace before eating. Even so, the Rev shows Langston some family heirlooms related to their proud history of involvement in the Civil Rights movement, including a pocket watch that belonged to Martin Luther King, Jr. himself.
Unfortunately, Langston sees the pocket watch as a way to earn money to pay down the rent his mother owes by selling it at the nearest pawn shop. As luck would have it, the pawn shop owner knows Rev. Cobbs and that he would never voluntarily part with the piece.
Though he strikes out with the watch, Langston encounters a man on the street who can set him up with anything he needs, including a handgun. Langston begins to set the wheels in motion in an extremely misguided attempt to get the money needed to stop the eviction.
As he gets to know his grandparents better, Langston begins to unravel the family’s secrets. While reluctantly attending the Christmas Eve service and hearing the Nativity story at church, Langston offers a place to sit to young expecting couple Maria and Jo Jo. Get it? But do you get it since it’s incredibly subtle?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Christmas miracle of Naima managing to reunite with her family occurs…but does it mean the truth will surface and the power of forgiveness will smooth over past disagreements?
2.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
To me, there are three stages of watching this film (in no particular order): boredom, annoyance, state of awe of Angela Bassett.
Despite the incredible cast (Angela Bassett! Forest Whitaker! Jennifer Hudson! Mary J. Blige!), this is a surprisingly boring and disjointed film. The main plot line involving the family’s history and Langston’s poor decisions is quite predictable, and our talented cast don’t have nearly enough to do. Add to this the well-known Nativity story that’s not done in a particularly interesting or novel way, songs that are forgettable, and increasingly poor decisions by Langston (who TALKS BACK to Angela Bassett), and there’s not a lot going for it.
We do get strong vocal performances from just about everyone in our film, even if the songs themselves aren’t that interesting. And Angela Bassett in particular does rock the role, especially considering what she’s given to work with. However, there was a major missed opportunity for a Dreamgirls mash-up, especially a scene near the end where a reprise of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” wouldn’t have hurt at all.
All of this being said, I still teared up a little at the extremely predictable end.