A feel-great family movie, especially around the holidays, has the power to bring people together, and make them appreciate what they hold dear. Each and every year without fail, countless companies jump for the chance at their own new Christmas movie in the hopes that they will remain in the conversation for years to come. Burgeoning streamer Peacock attempts just that this Christmas season with their Melissa McCarthy vehicle, Genie. The start of a new franchise, or an annoying effort strung loosely together by a threadbare narrative? If the general love for McCarthy is any indication, we may be seeing much more Genie in the near future. However, I need to rip off the band-aid by stating that this Hallmark-channel retread—written by Richard Curtis and directed by Sam Boyd—should have stayed forever hidden in its genie-lamp jewelry box.
The bright lights of the massive tree at Rockefeller Center come into focus just as Genie begins, immersing us in the story-book version of New York City. Tonight is little Eve’s ice-skating birthday, and as usual, her father, Bernard (Paapa Essiedu), runs terribly behind. His inconsiderate boss, Oliver Flaxman (Alan Cumming), throws a last minute request at Bernard as he squeezes halfway out the door. In a typical setup orchestrated to show the values of family and responsibility, Bernard chooses work over his daughter (Jordyn McIntosh). Later, he tries to make up for it by gifting little Eve her “first antique,” a priceless golden jewelry box he pulls off a bedroom shelf. Wife Julie (Denee Benton), fed up with Bernard’s constant excuses, promptly takes Eve and bolts, needing a break from his bullshit.
With Bernard’s skewed sense of values steering him, he asks for time off from work to prioritize his marriage, only to be let go permanently. His life in shambles, Bernard dusts off the jewelry box back at home—one burst of purple mist later, genie Flora (McCarthy) glides her way into Bernard’s living room, sporting a tiny dagger. McCarthy at least has a blast as Flora, and a small tweak to the genie mythos sets Genie apart from the rest. This genie can grant unlimited wishes, so none of that “three wishes” fairy tale stuff around here. One of the only fun aspects is that constant-wish angle, which works on anyone who simply says “I wish.” Conversely, the unlimited use of wishes also makes them feel less special and specific.
Genie’s script attempts to channel Enchanted, or any number of other fish-out-of-water stories. Flora, having been boxed up for nearly two thousand years, has never tried pizza, nor listened to music streamed on “Spuddiffy,” or sampled any of the “zesty” hand sanitizer. At one point, Flora takes on the appearance of an adorable old hipster woman before finally settling on a purple-suited businesswoman with a bunch of pins. Genie never goes far enough, always feeling like the true laughs are just out of grasp of the film’s charms. Despite being filmed in the city, it also fails to adequately give a sense of tangible Christmas atmosphere to the movie. Wandering around Times Square and changing the billboards at will does not even live up to its potential.
Family dynamics cause the film to falter time and time again. Melissa McCarthy’s manic performance can only do so much, especially when Genie relies so heavily on the father/daughter relationship. How can one not compare this to movies that have done this type of thing much better decades before? 1997’s A Simple Wish, starring a young Mara Wilson and Martin Short, found an oafish fairy godfather desperately trying to grant wishes, and also took place in New York City. That underrated gem feels most stylistically and thematically similar to Genie, yet with one major difference—its focus was on the child and fairy godfather relationship rather than on the adult. In nearly every aspect, A Simple Wish is the better movie.
Genie does not work primarily because no one cares for this father’s plight. It does not feel adult or mature in the slightest, and translates to zero stakes with an unlimited amount of wishes. Through the window of his daughter, Eve, Genie already transforms into a much more interesting type of movie than what was presented here. I cannot see kids caring about what unfolds onscreen, but maybe they will at least be entertained by Flora’s mildly outrageous hijinks. I wish I had more nice things to say about Genie, but it lacks the magic and whimsy of better movies.
Unleash a new type of Genie, and grant wishes to your heart’s content when this fantastical comedy debuts exclusively to Peacock on November 22nd.