Last night I got to do something I don't often get to do in my little town...I got out to see a play. Our community theater decided to do one of my favorite short plays which is based on one of my favorite children's books regarding the Christmas season. Several of my theater kids were in it too, and they were all fabulous...which made me so proud. Watching them in the play reminded me of how that book used to be a family tradition. My mother always read it with her elementary school kids and would talk about their reactions, and one year I was even in the play as a major character. This was a part of Christmas and a part of childhood...and it wasn't until yesterday that I remembered that there was also a movie based on this popular book and I thought, wouldn't that be perfect for for my blog this year? So here it is, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
The Herdmans are the worst kids in town. They fight, bully, smoke cigars (even the girls) and cuss their teachers. Every one of them is a terror and they make life unbearable for kid and child alike all over the town. In fact, the only place where one can feel safe from them is at church, which is what Charlie Bradley says when being asked what he likes about Sunday School. This upsets his teacher, but not his mother Grace who completely understands since Leroy Herdman made Charlie black and blue last year in school. Soon afterward, Mrs. Armstrong...the unofficial leader of everything Christmas related...ends up with a broken leg and all of her duties have to be passed off to other women, including the unwanted annual Christmas Pageant. The honor ends up falling to Grace, who not only insists that her children and her husband participate but who also insists that this will be their best Christmas Pageant ever. That is, until Charlie makes a big blunder. When Leroy Herdman steals his lunch dessert for the umpteeth time, Charlie brags that he gets all the dessert he wants at Sunday School. Guess who shows up at Church next week just in time to hear about the Christmas Pageant? Suddenly, Grace is having to deal with the usual Pageant problems while also trying to herd the Herdmans who take over the show in a matter of minutes. Will this be the best Christmas Pageant ever or will it be an unmitigated disaster?
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is always best experienced in its original written form where you can supply all the reactions and sarcasms in your own mind that make you laugh the most. When it gets dramatized you have actors making performance choices that either match what you always imagined, or don't. I suppose this is true of any book, but with comedy it's particularly dangerous. It somewhat like hearing the same joke again. If you don't hear it exactly right, it won't make you laugh the same way. Such is the case with this film. It is good, because the source is good, but it doesn't quite reach greatness due to that constant comparison to how you first reacted to the source. Many parts still are riotous, however...such as the pageant rehearsals and Mrs. Armstrong's conversations with Grace over the phone. Also, the performance of Loretta Swit (best known as Hot Lips Houlihan from M.A.S.H.) is an excellent mix of sweetness and sarcasm and is perfect for the role of Grace. Overall, it is a cute and short little telemovie that is always fun to watch, especially as we get nearer to Christmas because...despite being heavily rooted in satire and slapstick...it is a film that really contemplates the true meaning of Christmas and what it means to everyone. I think that's worth more than a few poorly timed punchlines.