A Christmas Star (**)
Running Time: 82 min
Director: Richard Elson
Cast: Bronagh Waugh, Richard Clements, Erin Galway-Kendrick, Suranne Jones, Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson
(World Premiere 04 November 2015, Odyssey Cinema, SSE Arena, Belfast)
Do you ever feel different?
THERE’S much to admire about Cinemagic’s latest project, an ambitious cinematic concept devised to give young people in Northern Ireland an opportunity to get their first working credit within a locally produced feature; both In front of, and behind the camera. It’s a shame then that the final product, much heralded as Northern Ireland’s first Christmas movie, is such an underwhelming affair. Don’t get me wrong A Christmas Star is no turkey, not by any means, it’s got its heart in the right place; but like an undercooked Brussel sprout, it’s just too hard to swallow.
Cinemagic’s project offered aspiring young actors and filmmakers the opportunity to work alongside seasoned industry professionals within every aspect of the filmmaking process during the making of the feature. Allowing them to gain much-needed experience along the way and more importantly the first credit for their professional CVs. Appearing in front of the camera we have a string of familiar faces and patrons of the festival like Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Suranne Jones and Bronagh Waugh, who appear alongside eleven budding young actors: all of whom went through a lengthy audition process to earn their respective roles.
Whilst most of the more experienced cast members are acting on autopilot throughout the movie, particularly Neeson who plays the film’s narrator/Radio DJ, the younger cast members really shine throughout the movie; particularly Erin Galway-Kendrick who plays the film’s central heroine, Noelle O’Hanlon.I’d previously seen the young actress in a short-film by local filmmaker Carol Murphy at the Belfast Film Festival a few years ago and I really think she’s got some genuine talent: sadly she’s not really given that much to do within this film, because the screenplay is just too sugary sweet and sentimental. I know it’s a Christmas movie after all,but it’s humour and tone is aimed at the youngest viewing demographic possible and at times it just felt too much like a ‘Norn Irish’ version of The Little Rascals, but with a festive twist shoehorned in.
It’s a nice film for a family with younger children to enjoy together at the cinema, there’s enough gags to keep the little ones entertained and the only real tension comes in the form of a football being kicked at someone’s head; but sadly there’s not much going on for older viewers. Most of the adult characters are nothing more than stereotypical figures; there’s the uptight mother (Bronagh Waugh), the doting father (Richard Clements) and the cliché villain, played by Rob James-Collier, with his nefarious plans and even worse American accent.
The film’s plot see’s Noelle, a young girl who believes she has the ability to perform miracles, trying to stop the scheming property developer Patrick McKerrod from buying the local pottery factory in her small village. Along with her friends she must expose McKerrod’s true intentions and convince her parents and the rest of the village not to listen to his empty promises. The film’s writer Maire Campbell said she wanted to showcase a ‘new’ Northern Ireland within A Christmas Star. One where friendship and community would prevail and not war: It’s a nice idea that harks back to Coca Cola’s I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing ad campaign in the 1970s; but it’s just too sickly sweet and felt terribly stale and outdated.
I’m no Scrooge, but even as the film’s cheesy finale played itself out in front of Belfast’s City Hall and the annoyingly catchy song We Can Shine blared out over the closing credits, it still didn’t leave me feeling particularly festive. Maybe it’s the fact I watched this movie at the beginning of November, I might possibly feel differently when the film is screened on local television closer to Christmas: but I’d doubt that greatly.
Admittedly as a 32-year-old male, without any children of my own, I’m probably not within this film’s target demographic. The younger viewers who attended the same screening all seemed to enjoy the movie; but in my own opinion this film, like so many of the festively themed Christmas movies released annually each year, just felt like it was pandering to its audience rather than genuinely trying to set out and entertain them.
Sometimes writers don’t give enough credit to younger viewers when they’re trying to write for them: yes a fart joke will always get a laugh (Minions certainly proved that); but the writers behind some of the best movies for children, particularly Pixar over recent years, have shown inventive ways to tackle complex and adult issues in a way that is both entertaining and engaging to younger viewers.
As a festival Cinemagic does great work locally, providing a fantastic programme on an annual basis that introduces younger audiences to world cinema and films not normally found at their local multiplex. Considering the considerable fanfare to which they trumpeted this project and the scale of its world premiere, which saw nearly 2,500 people descending upon the SSE Arena on a dreary November evening, it’s a shame then that the final product is just so mediocre.
Hopefully this won’t be the last time Cinemagic attempt such an ambitious project; it’s a fantastic idea that gives young people that vital first step towards a career within the film industry. Maybe next time though the final product will be something much more enjoyable to watch: In the words of Tom Hardy’s character Eames in Inception: “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger darling!”