It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve had a 2010s-style Melissa McCarthy comedy. But, dare we ask, is that really such a bad thing?
The Oscar-nominated actress most recently appeared as Ursula in Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid,” and once again McCarthy is donning outrageous costumes — think a cross between a pirate and ABBA cosplay — for Peacock original film “Genie.” And yes, McCarthy plays the titular supernatural figure, one who just can’t seem to ever calm down. Yet “Genie” is really about the person who inadvertently summons McCarthy’s over-the-top spirit: Overworked father Bernard (Paapa Essiedu), knee-deep in one of the worst days of his life.
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After being stuck at the auction house office due to his picky boss (Alan Cumming), Bernard misses his daughter Eve’s (Jordyn Mcintosh) eighth birthday party. Bernard’s wife Julie (“The Gilded Age” star Denée Benton) is more than displeased — enough to up and leave Bernard less than two weeks before Christmas. Frantic, Bernard tries to give Eve a random jewelry box that is already on display in their living room. It’s only when Bernard, now alone with Eve’s rejected quasi-present, opens the box that Flora (McCarthy) come into his life to solve all of his problems with a series of trios of wishes.
“Genie” is written by “Love Actually” scribe Richard Curtis, and is based on his 1991 teleplay “Bernard and the Genie,” but all the classic holiday charm of his previous film is missing here. (“Love Life” series creator Sam Boyd directs the film.) Mostly, the pair seem concerned with a prolonged fish-out-of-water subplot that follows Flora throughout New York City as she becomes accustomed to life 2,000 years after she was last set free. Bernard is skeptical of Flora’s powers (who wouldn’t be?), and first asks for his phone to be charged and for a camel to appear. Both wishes happen, thanks to Flora, but no matter, those don’t actually “count” as his official wishes because, well, we have 90 minutes to fill of watching McCarthy get manic.
A series of now-staple McCarthy-isms ensue, complete with wacky makeovers, dance sequences (Flora hears rap music for the first time and pulls a Britney Spears by shimmying while holding a knife), and reading aloud of Marshalls Home Goods signs like “my presence is my present.” Flora even name-drops Jesus because it’s … Christmas (oh, we nearly forgot).
The actual premise of the film — how Bernard will be reunited with his family — seems to take a total backseat once Flora is onscreen. Bernard loses his job, which seemingly would fix the problem of him working too much and not prioritizing his family. And apparently there is more at play than just him missing Eve’s birthday; as his wife Julie seems to have no interest in reconciling before Christmas.
Flora’s abrupt parting gift to Bernard is granting him the wish he didn’t even knew he needed: going back in time just a few days prior to properly surprise Eve and go to her birthday party since he is her dad. It’s a cheap way to wrap everything up with a bow, and one that neatly eludes any mention of the deeper issues Julie and Bernard may have had leading up to that one incident.
Character development, life lessons, holiday cheer? All a distant wish.
“Genie” starts streaming on Peacock on Wednesday, November 22.
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