Journey to Bethlehem (2023)


Journey to Bethlehem is a joyous experience from start to finish, full of dazzling songs and wonderful performances. The last time I had this much fun at the movies (and walked out already buying the digital soundtrack on my cell phone) was The Greatest Showman.


Mary (Fiona Palomo) has grand ideas for her future and getting married is not one of them; she wants to be a teacher instead, but then her father drops a bomb on her -- he has engaged her to a young man from Bethlehem named Joseph (Milo Manheim). Distraught by this news, Mary runs off to think about her future and happens to meet a handsome young charmer in the marketplace who makes a good impression on her. But it's not a joyful reunion later when she discovers that was Joseph all along. Neither of them planned to get married, and they seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot, but they hope they can make it work for the sake of their families' wishes.


Then, in the middle of the night, Mary is awakened by an angel (Lecrae) who informs her that God has chosen her to bear His child, a future king. The humbled Mary feels touched by this honor, but does not know how she can do this alone... for when Joseph heard the news, he found it hard to believe her. She sets off to live with her cousin Elizabeth while he wrestles with his feelings for her and admits, "I feel as if I have done something wrong [in abandoning her]." Little do either of them know that three wise men have obeyed the signs in the sky and are on their way to Judea to worship at the child's feet. Along the way, they stop in at the court of King Herod (a delightfully sinister Antonio Banderas) and arouse his jealousy toward this unborn threat to his realm. He sends his son Antipater (Joel Smallbone) to find and kill this woman and her unborn child, leading to an epic confrontation in Bethlehem...


Where do I start? I loved everything about this musical. It is colorful, funny, has terrific character development (even for Mary's beloved donkey, Fig), and absolutely magnificent pop songs that range from humorous (Three Wise Guys) to profound (In My Blood). Some of the running gags include nobody knowing what Myrrh is for or why they should care about it, a donkey that gets in and out of trouble (and knocks out a soldier at a crucial point), and a few intentional anachronisms (if you cue up the subtitles, at one point someone in the crowd, while King Herod is boasting about how It's Good to Be King, screams 'Herod sucks!' -- I about died laughing). The costumes and sets are terrific, the dancing is catchy, and all of the songs are so snappy, I started singing along my second time through. My absolute favorite is In My Blood, in which Antipater dramatically confronts his feelings about his sadistic father and questions whether he can follow a new path.


All too often, movies about the Nativity err on the side of caution and forget to give their leads personalities. Mary often turns out to be an emotionless statute of a human being, rather than a real living and breathing girl; but here we get to see a young woman with dreams of her own, who has them interrupted and goes through a growth arc. She holds onto her strong faith, calls upon God for help, encourages Joseph to remember that "You were also Chosen [for this task]" and learns that, as Gabriel says, she should "bow before no one." I loved seeing Joseph wrestle with his feelings for Mary and face a decision of whether to save her from being stoned and claim the child as his own to protect and love. They also have a little love story that unfolds in a sweet, adorable way. The film cuts back and forth between their innocence and Herod and his insanity, power-hungry behaviors, and relationship with his oldest son, who is trying to discover who he is separate from his father's expectations. Joel Smallbone, Of King and Country fame (a Christian band), knocks it out of the park with his single. I am talking chills.


If you prefer a more reverent take on the tale, I recommend The Nativity Story, but if you want to see a glorious musical extravaganza with wit and humor, adorable main characters, and goose-bump-inducing music, rent this today! If you're anything like me, you'll watch it three times in a weekend and then buy the soundtrack to play ten thousand times.
Sexual Content:
People doubt whether Mary is a virgin and Joseph questions in a song whether she told the truth or "gave in to her desires."



None, apart from the aforementioned use of "sucks" (in subtitles, not really audible in the film).
Herod has a man arrested who throws things at him, and we see him tied up in the dungeon; Herod mentions how much he loves to torture people. Herod also tells his son to kill every child and pregnant woman he can find, to get rid of this future king.

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