“Black Nativity” is a pretty good TV movie that’s being released theatrically because of its really great cast.
Based on a Langston Hughes play, this musical is about Langston (Jacob Latimore), a teenager from Baltimore whose struggling single mother (Jennifer Hudson) sends him to spend Christmas with the grandparents (Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett) he has never met because of their deep estrangement from his mom.
Grampa is a minister who is — you guessed it! — stern and forbidding. Grandma is a sweetheart who is, nonetheless, reluctant to spill the beans about the family dram.
You don’t have to guess what drove a wedge between Mom and the grandparents. It’s clearly telegraphed long before poor Langston finally figures it out. And there’s a character who turns out to be, well, no spoiler here, but it’s so obvious so early, the Big Reveal is anticlimactic.
It’s all made more palatable by the Big Christmas Message of love, which is a huge part of the plot.
What saves this film by writer-director Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou,” “Talk to Me”) is the cast and their musical performances — a mix of traditional holiday music and original songs. Hudson, Latimore, Mary J. Blige, Nas and Tyrese Gibson are great, and even Whitaker and Bassett sing.
At the very least, “Black Nativity” succeeds as uplifting entertainment.
Opens today at area theaters; rated PG for thematic material, language and a menacing situation; 93 minutes.