Richard Curtis, the writer of Love Actually, Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral can safely rely on his repertoire to promote any new project he embarks on, knowing it’s guaranteed to attract interest regardless of the quality of the work. This is proving to be the case with Sky’s new Christmas feel-good comedy Genie, which appears to tick all the boxes of an enjoyable festive movie, but on closer inspection is only a painfully formulaic story recycled from the writer’s own archives. It’s a remake of Curtis’s own 1991 BBC television movie Bernard and the Genie, which in turn borrows its main plot feature from the Arabian Nights’ famous Genie in a Bottle.
Bernard Bottle (Paapa Essiedu) works at an auction house in New York. When his mean boss Mr Flaxman (Alan Cumming) asks him to work late on the day of his daughter’s birthday, Bernard accepts and sets off a downward spiral that begins with his disappointed wife Julie (Denee Benton) asking for time apart. Alone in his flat, Bernard rubs an antique box and, to his shock, sees a genie named Flora (Melissa McCarthy) emerge from it. The fact that Flora can grant him unlimited wishes gives him hope that he can win his family back.
Relying on an overused classic character like the genie without adding anything particularly interesting to the story comes across as lazy. McCarthy gives off a nice energy but the humour falls short. Bernard is not a very likeable character and his redemption story is woefully superficial: the only change he makes (after getting in trouble) is to do the things his wife had always told him to do. It’s not clear whether he actually ends up sharing her perspective or if he just does it to please her and avoid conflict.
The most unfortunate element of the tale, however, is that rather than question the commercialisation of Christmas, the film ascribes to the idea that riches and luxury somehow make Christmas complete. Fancy gifts, a Lamborghini and fine dining are part of the route that brings the protagonists closer to happiness. And the ultimate wish, apparently, is to secure a table at a busy high-end restaurant. In other words, if an eccentric billionaire had turned up instead of a genie, the film wouldn’t have looked or felt much different. Lacking humour, originality and a moral, Genie is unlikely to become the Christmas classic it aspires to be.
Genie is released on Sky on 1st December 2023.
Watch the trailer for Genie here: