Richard Curtis's new Christmas movie Genie is slight but sweet

paapa essiedu and melissa mccarthy in genie
Does Genie live up to Love Actually?Sky

Like it or loathe it, Love Actually is one of the biggest Christmas movies of all time, so Richard Curtis's return to the Christmas movie genre is a Big Deal — although Genie might not welcome the comparisons.

Genie, available to watch now on Sky Cinema in the UK, does have a connection to another Curtis festive offering, but it's not Love Actually. The new film is a remake of the 1991 TV movie Bernard and the Genie, which was written by Curtis and starred Alan Cumming and Lenny Henry.

Like that movie, Genie isn't a Love Actually-style anthology piece of interconnected stories but a simple classic festive tale of a man who loses everything before the magic of Christmas fixes his life.

melissa mccarthy as flora, paapa essiedu as bernard bottle, jordyn mcintosh as eve, genie
Universal Pictures/Peacock

In remaking his own movie, Curtis hasn't felt the need to revolutionise what worked before. The main change here is that the genie is no longer Josephus but Flora (Melissa McCarthy), who's woken up after 2,000 years trapped in an antique jewellery box.

Flora is unwittingly freed by Bernard (Paapa Essiedu), a family man who has just lost his job shortly after the demands of his work led his wife Julie (Denée Benton) to ask for a trial separation. Bernard's life is falling apart, but he spots redemption in the form of the unlimited wishes granted by Flora.

Along the way, there are shenanigans involving the Mona Lisa (as there were in the original movie), but otherwise, the story progresses as you'd expect. The film wraps up a little too conveniently, perhaps to keep the runtime a breezy 90 minutes — yet it's the finale you anticipate, so it's hard to judge it too much.

And this is the thing when it comes to Genie: You'll come to the movie expecting a certain thing, and thanks to Curtis's expertise with this particular genre, you get that delivered with enough heart and humour to give you enough festive feels to make it worth a watch.

paapa essiedu and melissa mccarthy in genie

Genie gets by on the strength of its two leads, with Paapa Essiedu playing the straight man to Melissa McCarthy's more anarchic genie. Your tolerance of McCarthy's particular comic stylings might vary, but she also gets to show off her dramatic chops, so it's not a one-note role.

Curtis has fun with genie clichés, Flora's fish-out-of-water antics, including a running joke about Tom Cruise, and stressful family meals at Christmas time in a stand-out sequence. At times, this turns the film into Elf with a genie, which should give you another idea of whether it's a movie for you.

Unlike with Love Actually, it's hard to imagine anybody having strong feelings about Genie either way, but that's no bad thing. If you're in the mood, Genie is a slight but sweet festive watch — and, sometimes, that's all you need from a Christmas movie.

3 stars
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Genie is available to watch now on Sky Cinema in the UK and on Peacock in the US.

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