Genie Review

In the run-up to a New York Christmas, Bernard Bottle (Paapa Essiedu) finds himself jobless and alone after marriage troubles. It’s during this lonely time that he accidentally releases genie Flora (Melissa McCarthy), who helps him to re-evaluate his life.

by Beth Webb |
Published on

The messaging in festive movies is historically muddled. The reason for the season is often realised via a detour to a department store; get the wrong gift (or fail to get one at all) and you could lose a loved one. Yet the rocky relationship between Christmas and capitalism can be easily forgiven with the right performances, a joyful script and a generous dousing of cheer.

Genie takes a swing for all of the above. It’s got a script penned by Richard Curtis (based on his own 1991 TV movie Bernard And The Genie). It’s got charismatic rising star Paapa Essiedu, taking the role of a sweater-vest-wearing Brit with a twee name; and Melissa McCarthy giving her usual comic shtick. And it’s set in New York — arguably the capital of Christmas.


All of the working parts are there, vying for your heartstrings and hoping to distract you from the fact that McCarthy’s centuries-old genie doesn’t recognise pizza and yet is instantly familiar with the concept of a credit card. Or that the film takes a swipe at Times Square’s luminous advertising boards mere seconds before some pretty unavoidable product placement for AMC.

Alas, Genie lacks the dazzle and charm to entirely gloss over its consumerist core. Its jokes, which mostly borrow from Elf’s “alien let loose in the city” brand of humour, are half-baked. Its premise is little better, with the opening act hastily stumbling through the events that lead Bernard to Flora’s mismatched double act.

Yet all is not lost. McCarthy’s comedy largely comes from her huge reactions and relentlessly high energy, and there are pockets of happiness in the moments where she and Essiedu — with his sweet and easy presence — are left to do their own thing. Had they only been served a better script, in a film that strived to be something more ambitious than a cash cow wearing a Santa hat, this could have been just the kind of silly and sentimental film that you crave for a seasonal watch.

Critiquing the very thing it also sets out to do, Genie is the movie equivalent of a dog chasing its own tail, but is (barely) saved from the wrapping-paper pile by the amiable chemistry of its stars.
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