I really wanted to like Journey to Bethlehem. Some critical reviews (like this one) said the new musical movie took too many liberties with Scripture. But I was determined to enjoy myself.
For the most part, I love quirky musicals, even Cats, and I like a good pop-rock musical. I also typically assume the best intentions behind biblical fiction. Despite what I’d read, I was still planning to give a more positive report when I wrote this review. So in an attempt to do that, I’ll start with the things I actually liked: Journey had a few sweet, heartwarming moments and songs. The acting was decent, and most of the music was really well done.
Unfortunately, that is the only good I have to report.
Sadly, the other reviewers were right—this film was a disappointment. With Christian-made art finally living up to secular standards, Journey felt chaotic and lacking in many ways. The comedy was disjointed slapstick, awkwardly placed between much more serious moments. In fact, the added humor ruined scenes that should have brought viewers to tears instead of making them cringe and look away. And I’m genuinely curious who thought it was a good idea to make the magi the comedic relief. (Ryan George’s “Pitch Meeting” just writes itself, you know?)
Regarding the film’s alleged misinterpretation of Scripture, I was also ready to be generous and forgiving. After all, I’m a big fan of The Chosen, which creates fictional backstories and plot lines woven into a faithful reading of Scripture. It’s also been ruthlessly criticized for being heretical (which it isn’t). And from what I’d read, Journey’s filmmakers had a genuine desire to stay true to the spirit of the Christmas story even as they took creative license.
Yet where The Chosen enhances our understanding of the characters, culture, and circumstances of the Bible, Journey only distorts the story through a modernist lens.
No doubt the writers asked themselves, “How would a teenage girl feel if she were forced into a marriage with a man she didn’t know or love? And then to be told she was going to have a baby by the power of the Holy Spirit and be shamed in front of her whole town?” I would assume they found answers through the lens of a modern teenager rather than a Jewish girl who lived thousands of years ago. I fear the backstory and tensions they created for these characters may mislead viewers rather than enhance their comprehension of the Bible.
Am I just being a stick in the mud? Maybe. I have no doubt the people who made this film had really good intentions. But with a storyline so wildly altered and modernized, I can’t bring myself to give Journey to Bethlehem the support I usually give biblical fiction and musicals.