What is it that separates good Christmas movies from bad ones? The answer is rather simple. A good Christmas movie gets you excited for the holiday season, whereas a bad one leaves you feeling apathetic. You should be walking away from the screen with a smile on your face, marking down on the calendar how many days are left till December 25th. If you leave with no joy radiating from you then the Christmas movie has fundamentally failed. It’s a shame that The Man Who Invented Christmas falls into the latter category.
Synopsis: The Man Who Invented Christmas tells the magical journey that led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and other classic characters from A Christmas Carol. The film shows how Charles Dickens mixed real life inspirations with his vivid imagination to conjure up unforgettable characters and a timeless tale, forever changing the holiday season into the celebration we know today. (Bleecker Street)
Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, and Jonathan Pryce
Writer: Susan Coyne
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Rating: PG (Canada/United States)
Running Time: 104mins
For showtimes and more, check out The Man Who Invented Christmas on movietimes.com.
Right from the get-go, the film sets up Charles Dickens (Stevens) as an arrogant man who underneath, has quite a big heart. Riding a wave of popularity from his literary classic Oliver Twist, Dickens has come crashing down to reality, as he is suffering from severe writer’s block and can’t figure out the story for his latest novel. It’s always a hard task for a filmmaker to give a character suffering from writer’s block some zestfulness (see Shakespeare in Love in how do this right) and Nalluri has trouble crafting an entertaining, cohesive story.
Scenes feel disjointed and repetitive, Stevens does his best to make the character work but Dickens comes across as distant and hard to read. The film makes use of many flashbacks that give some backstory on his upbringing and how he uses his past experiences to formulate the characters for A Christmas Carol. This gives good insight on how one of the most beloved Christmas stories ever told was created, yet the film uses it as a manipulation tool so the audience can get a better understanding of Dickens.
The main conflict in the film comes when Charles’ father John (Pryce) comes to visit, as the two have a lot of history. These scenes are very important, as their father-son relationship has had a lasting impact on Charles and his novels, however; the scenes are so frequent and the outcomes so repetitive that it induces eye rolling every time they were on screen together. The main theme of the film is that art is a reflection of life, but it’s hard to pierce the surface level meaning of this when the filmmakers have trouble getting the audience emotionally invested with the relationship between the characters. It’s when the characters from Dickens’ novel come to life that ironically gives the film some life.
Stevens as Dickens displays a manic energy in the role that gives the character some animation, but it’s Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge who totally steals the show. There isn’t anyone who could have played Scrooge better after seeing this film. Plummer totally embodies every characteristic of him. We all know how mean and cheap Scrooge is throughout the story, but the climax sees Plummer at his best, injecting pathos into Scrooge that pierces your heart with emotion. The biggest strength of the movie is that the characters come to life and they create the story themselves, not Dickens. It was a real treat witnessing scenes from the book play out in real time, as experienced by Dickens himself. The parallels between Scrooge and Dickens were surprising, as we learn that the whole book was just a parable for Dickens’ life (the Tiny Tim bits that reflect his nephew are especially heartwarming). If only the characters who inhabited reality were as interesting as Plummer, Tiny Tim, and the three ghosts.
Other than Dickens, there is no interesting real-life character to speak of. Dickens’ manager John Forster (Justin Edwards) is the comic relief but there is nothing to be invested in. Subplots are introduced, dropped, and resolved by the end; wrapped with a nice little bow. This goes for all supporting characters in the film. Speaking of the ending, Nalluri actually finishes on a strong note, as we learn just how influential A Christmas Story was on the British mass audience at a point in history when Christmas was just a holiday with no real meaning attached to it. It’s truly a shame that the film couldn’t dive deeper into the absorbing themes it was trying to convey.
Overall, The Man Who Invented Christmas is an inessential Christmas movie with good ideas, a few great performances, but filled with disjointed scenes and surface level interpretations. The biggest flaw is that is lacks the holiday spirit that is needed for this type of movie to work. If you’re a fan of the Dickens book or any interpretation of it, see it for the insight. If not, just skip it as it will do you no service.
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