You’ve seen movies with genies in them. But have you ever seen a genie movie starring Melissa McCarthy? Set at Christmastime? Written by Richard Curtis, the man whose Love Actually entered the pantheon of Christmas movies on heavy rotation 20 years ago, whose presence might add whatever touch of magic the genie could not?


These seem like the reasons to retrofit a standard genie movie, in which the humour is derived from characters being clumsy with their phrasing of wishes, to the ever-burgeoning and overstuffed milieu of Christmas movies. Then again, to say Genie was retrofitted suggests the script was something else to start out with and they only tacked on all the Christmas stuff. It’s more likely that this was always what they intended and the Christmas stuff just feels tacked on because the writing is so feeble. Films that are made for cynical reasons like Christmas profiteering often turn out this way … but even Love Actually was a pretty dubious mishmash with inexplicable endurance in the popular culture. In fact, you might say that the success of that truly chaotic movie was what kicked off our gradual smothering by Christmas pap over the last two decades.

McCarthy plays a genie called Flora Gwendolyn Lockheed Firepit McAllister – are you laughing yet? – who emerges from the rubbing of an ancient jewellery box in modern-day New York. This is the first time the box has been so rubbed in two thousand years. The rubber is Bernard (Paapa Essiedu), a loving dad who frequently fails to meet his commitments to his wife (Denee Benton) and daughter (Jordyn McIntosh) due to his miserable boss (Alan Cumming). Failing to arrive for his daughter’s ice skating birthday party – and dropping her birthday present while desperately trying to get there on his scooter – is the last straw, so Julie takes Eve to her mother’s house as the start of a trial separation, even with Christmas only a few weeks off. The mere description of what happened is enough to get him fired by his boss, causing one to wonder why Bernard was ever considered to be his most indispensable employee.

Don’t try to figure out the logic in a movie like Genie. One thing that’s going to bother you is why the movie couldn’t have been ten percent smarter and made hay from the fact that Flora has been locked away since the days of Jesus Christ. Sure she doesn’t know what all these crazy contraptions are, but she talks exactly like a standard 21st century Melissa McCarthy character. Would it have been too much to push McCarthy’s range – which she has demonstrated in numerous dramatic roles – so that she actually speaks like someone who might have known Jesus Christ, and that was her last experience of the world? (Which she does claim. “Oh, Mary’s kid?” Yeah, keep trying to laugh. It’ll be a long wait.) Genie is too risk averse for that. Even most of her string of surnames belies the possibility of being two millennia old.

So as you would expect, Bernard keeps trying to wish his way back into happiness. Most of his wishes are directed at winning his family back, but of course he has to get a fancy car too. Another way Genie is content being lazy is that it doesn’t involve a stringent narrative premise like Bernard needing to stick to the standard three wishes. Flora explains that the three wishes is a common misunderstanding and that a real genie – as opposed to all those charlatans posing as genies – grants you unlimited wishes. Ho hum. So this movie will be able to contain whatever it wants to contain, whatever it thinks will make you laugh or cry or feel Christmasy, with no dramatic stakes for the main character.


McCarthy is bad here, but she is undoubtedly fulfilling the minimal requirements asked of her by director Sam Boyd. Essiedu isn’t bad, or needn’t have been, except that his British accent is sophisticated enough and his past performances have the sort of indie credentials to make him seem like a total mismatch for this material. He has no chemistry with McCarthy because he doesn’t belong in this movie. His American wife and daughter are standard seat fillers in this sort of movie, but Essiedu needs to be appearing in movies like Men, where he played the suicidal ex-partner of the main character. When a movie like that Alex Garland film fails, it fails for interesting reasons.

Genie is eager to please, and that sort of instinct can ride a movie over its bumps, especially if you are sitting down to help usher in your Christmas season and not expecting anything more than blank positivity and a few giggles. But if this were enough for a Christmas movie, we’d have ten times the Christmas classics that we have. The more new holiday movies get shat into late November and early December – check your streamers, you’ll find plenty – the less we should tolerate the lame attempts of any individual one to distinguish itself. Sorry, Genie, you don’t get anywhere just by being nice.


Potential life rafts arise in the person of a few likable co-stars, like Marc Maron as Bernard’s doorman and Luis Guzman as a detective. That’s right, the movie recognises it needs to send a jolt of life into the proceedings with a mid-movie interlude where one of Bernard’s wishes results in the disappearance of a famous work of art. But every narrative gesture Curtis makes is stillborn and wrapped up unceremoniously. Unless he’s capable of much better work than this, Curtis will have to be content with his one Christmas “classic.” It’s one more than most people get.


Genie is currently streaming on Netflix.

3 / 10