In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
Thank goodness for the power of holiday spirit. If not for this red-tinted, intangible body of cheer, The Man Who Invented Christmas would have almost nothing going for it. In fact, had I neglected to take the sparse notes upon which this review is based, I’d have nothing to say at all beyond this: The Man Who Invented Christmas is a powerfully boring film.
Dan Stevens, an actor of considerable talent, gives his all but is still underused as Charles Dickens. At the outset of the film, the famed author is fresh off of a speaking tour which he’d been using to beef up his income in the wake of a string of failed novels. He’s currently in search of funding and inspiration for his next work. He and his agent manage to convince a publisher to post an advance, but said advance comes with a deadline — a deadline that Dickens will surely be unable to meet. And you know what? I don’t care. I promise that you don’t care either. It’s all harmless, but it’s uncommonly weightless to boot.
I guess what they’re going for here is a Shakespeare in Love sort of thing, where real life events and people serve to inspire the elements which make up A Christmas Carol, but unlike its Best Picture winning forbear, the real life connections are too on the nose to feel clever. And since his greatest inspiration is a hallucination of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer, still breathing), it suggests not that he’s inspired by flesh and blood acquaintances, but that he’s just being imaginative — he’s just writing a book like any author would — all the while lamenting a wicked case of writer’s block. Whatever. There’s really no reason for me to be pulling this notion apart. It doesn’t matter.
It feels like this:
Dickens: I have writer’s block!
Hallucination of Ebenezer Scrooge: Just write down what I’m saying.
THATS NOT HOW WRITER’S BLOCK WORKS. Case in point: me, right now. I have no clue what to say about this bland, uninteresting film, but even if I imagine someone telling me what to write, it’s still ultimately me and my brain doing some writing. I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that this process would not make for an interesting film. Even if the person I’m imagining is Bronson Pinchot, which it is.
Maybe I’m being unfair. I was extremely tired when I saw this movie, and that usually does affect my ability to engage with material, unless of course, the material is outwardly engaging. The Man Who Invented Christmas is not outwardly engaging. And while I’m still within a few lines of mentioning the title, let’s talk about it.
Did Charles Dickens invent Christmas?? I’m pretty sure he did not. Had he done so, the title A Christmas Carol would have had no meaning in the literary market. Readers would’ve been like “a what carol? What is Christmas?” So the suggestion is not that he invented the holiday outright, but that the release of this novel redefined the lens through which we view Christmas. However, we are never given a sense as to what the holiday looked like before or after Dickens wrote his book. Whatever. I don’t care. You don’t care.
But before I sound like a total Scrooge about the whole thing (you catch that?), let’s talk about what works:
– Dan Stevens is always always ALWAYS good. There’s a scene in which he does a different character voice to playfully greet each of his children one morning. It’s kind of amazing how deeply he inhabits even the silliest of voices. It’s remarkable the flexibility Stevens has. He has an old-fashioned vaudevillian air to him that pleases me to no end.
– Nana is going to love this movie. So here’s the plan, just be like “Nana, let’s go see a movie. I’ll pay!” When you get to the theater she’ll end up paying AND will likely throw down for snacks too. Nanas can’t resist but to pay. The movie isn’t excessively bad, just bland, which leaves you with a clean mental palette upon which to draw further plans for world domination. Plus, Nana really will be so happy that you spent time with her. Maybe you can ask her what it was like before Charles Dickens “invented” Christmas. $20 says she mentions bread lines and steel pennies. Everybody wins.
– That’s it. There’s nothing else here. Maybe this year I’ll finally watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Who am I kidding? It’s gonna be Die Hard or Black Christmas once again. And since when did it suddenly become lame to say that Die Hard is the best Christmas movie?!? It IS the best Christmas movie, and saying so doesn’t make me a “bro.” So if you’re one of those people who has decided it’s cool to be holier-than-thou in the realm of Christmas movies, congrats. You’re a fun-hating loser. I hope you get coal in your stocking and a rock in you shoe that won’t come out. Die Hard rules.
The Man Who Invented Christmas opens in Philly theaters today.