‘Genie’: Richard Curtis’ Christmas Comedy Is Little More Than a Charming Showcase for Melissa McCarthy
British screenwriter Richard Curtis, the man behind beloved classics such as “Love Actually” and “Notting Hill,” brings his talents to Peacock, and the result is the middling holiday fantasy film “Genie.” Melissa McCarthy goes full Melissa McCarthy as Flora, the titular genie who comes out of a jewelry box after two thousand years to fulfill the unlimited wishes of Bernard (Paapa Essiedu), a Brit living in New York City who is on the verge of losing his family when he unleashes the magic that is McCarthy.
“Genie” is Curtis’ adaptation of his own teleplay for the 1991 British television film “Bernard and the Genie. Alan Cumming, who played the original Bernard, has a small but memorable role here as Flaxman, Bernard’s Scrooge-like boss who forces him to work overtime in the days leading up to Christmas. Bernard’s devotion to work messes up his chance to celebrate the birthday of his little girl, Eve (Jordyn McIntosh). This is the last straw for his wife, Julie (Denée Benton), who takes Eve to her mother’s for the holidays, effectively separating from her husband. To add salt to his wounds, when he asks Flaxman for some time off to sort out his personal life, he gets the boot. It is during this low point that Bernard unintentionally brings Flora into his life. Most of his wishes revolve around his desire to win back his family, but it is hard for him to explain the odd lady hanging around him dressed in clothes from another century.
Predictably, some of Bernard’s wishes are rather silly, such as when he wishes for a framed soccer jersey in his apartment to become the Mona Lisa. The viewer thinks nothing of it until we see a security guard at the Louvre horrified to discover the jersey in the place of the famed painting. Naturally, Bernard and Flora end up in jail. However, this theft subplot is easily resolved. A fire also starts in Bernard’s apartment around this time, but there is otherwise a major lack of consequences or conflict stemming from his unlimited wishes.
“Genie” has a lot going for it, but the lack of conflict and structure stop it from living up to its potential. McCarthy gets lots of laughs, some of the funnier moments include her reacting to Christmas and it being the celebration of the birth of Jesus (“Really? Mary’s kid?”). She also has a sweet flirtation with Bernard’s lonely doorman, Lenny (Marc Maron), who, like the real Maron, is a devoted cat dad. However, after a while it just becomes the Melissa Show with all her riffing, and Essiedu, the protagonist of the film, playing second fiddle.
With streamers offering an influx of holiday films this time of year, the bar is pretty low. However, fans have come to expect more from Curtis than something easily forgettable. While McCarthy is charming throughout, this is no “Love Actually.” But “Genie” can be a bit of fun, escapist holiday fare and one does not need a lot of focus to follow what is going on, making it the kind of film that is ideal to have playing in the background when entertaining friends and family.
“Genie” begins streaming Nov. 22 on Peacock.