Paul (Freeman) is a loser who teaches at a primary school in the Midlands. It's been five years since his girlfriend Jennifer (Jensen) left to pursue a Hollywood career and best pal Gordon (Watkins) took a job in a posh school that puts on the most acclaimed Christmas shows in the city. This year, a moronic teacher's assistant Mr Poppy (Wootton) and a desperate-for-fame headmistress (Ferris) have put Paul in charge of the nativity play once again. And a little lie turns Paul's show into the talk of the town.
Alas, the plot feels like a first draft, with unconvincing twists and turns along the way (the gung ho support of the town, a trip to Los Angeles) that feel not only contrived but underdeveloped. Even a gifted comical cast like this one can't bring this material to life, and they certainly try. But since the characters are so underwritten, there's no one we like. Even the supposed heroes are narrow-minded and ill-tempered.
So it's up to the children to win us over. Not only are they far more talented than the story suggests, but they're shamelessly cute. And writer-director Isitt ruthlessly exploits them for from the start with constant scene-stealing cutaways. This strategy works, because we root for them to take the stage and really shine. We don't care about the clumsy romance between Paul and Jennifer, the awkward friendship between Paul and Mr Poppy or the competition between Paul and Gordon.
The final series of events, while extremely clunky dramatically, allows the children to put on a seriously enjoyable show, with amusingly over-the-top staging, slightly warped musical numbers and some rather sweet moments involving the parents. This scene is so much fun that it almost makes up for the 90 minutes that went before, except that constant plot points remind us of the lame narrative. Although in the end, the whole film feels like yet another movie in which beating the competitor into submission is more important than anything else on earth. Even the actual message of Christmas. Sigh.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Friday 27th November 2009
Distributed by: Freestyle Digital Media
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Fresh: 12 Rotten: 13
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Debbie Isitt
Producer: Nick Jones
Screenwriter: Debbie Isitt
Starring: Martin Freeman as Paul Maddens, Ashley Jensen as Jennifer, Ricky Tomlinson as Mayor, Pam Ferris as Headmistress, Marc Wootton as Mr. Poppy, Jason Watkins as Gordon Shakespeare, Alan Carr as Critic
Also starring: Phyllis Logan