The Twelve Flicks of Christmas

A New ben’s TEN Series

Get the Scoop You Won’t Find Anywhere Else on 12 Christmas Movies Old and New
[See complete list of reviews]

Scrooged (1988)
Directed by Richard Donner
Rated PG-13
Starring: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, and Bobcat Goldthwait

Review by Jeff Koch

Conventional Synopsis:
Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a high-powered and ruthless TV executive who undergoes a spiritual transformation and learns the true meaning of Christmas in this modern humorous re-telling of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol.

Beneath the Surface:
For any depiction of A Christmas Carol to work in any setting–even a comedy–the transformation of Scrooge must be believable and it must be heartfelt. The audience must despise him in the beginning, then slowly grow to sympathize for him and eventually embrace him as the transformation is complete. The problem with casting Bill Murray in the role of Scrooge is that Murray, while most definitely a once-in-a-generation talent, specializes in emotionally detached and ironically distant characters who are neither likable nor dislikable. We laugh at him, but we rarely feel like we know him, and generally don’t particularly like him. Or dislike him.

In the beginning of Scrooged, his character is deplorable, but still funny, and still possessing that Murray charm. So the audience can’t fully embrace the necessary disgust of the man. By the end, transformation complete, Frank is warm and full of love. But Murray still plays it detached and a little over-the-top goofy, so the audience again can’t fully embrace the necessary joy, and can’t inhabit the transformation with the character. The appropriate message is delivered, but with an unreliable messenger, the point is dull and ineffectual.

The movie is also bogged down in two new and wholly unnecessary stories. First, the requisite love story which, again, with Murray’s usual detachment, is unable to stir any emotion. Second, the cloying Bobcat Goldthwait plays a fired employee who comes back seeking revenge on his boss. Just listening to Goldthwait speak makes my skin crawl, and we already have ample evidence of Cross’s workplace miserliness and mistreatment of employees without this story.

“But isn’t this a comedy?” you might be asking at this point. To which I might reply: “I think it thinks it is.” But really, it’s not all that funny. Maybe it’s because, set in the 80s, it’s really dated. But the bigger issue to me is that none of the humor really derives from the story. Most of it tries to come from physical comedy that serves no bearing on the plot or the characters, just random sight gags thrown in. What other comedy there is comes mostly from Murray’s antics, which, while funny, also serve to take you out of the story and make you laugh with a character we’re not supposed to like, garnering good will for a character who should have none and going against the intention of the story.

I could forgive this movie a lot of its sins if it was laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s not. If you want to see a truly funny interpretation of A Christmas Carol that is also touching, heartfelt, and highly effective, watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. It holds truer to the story while generating honest laughs and honest moments.

[Also see Ben Koch's review of Jim Carrey's 2009 A Christmas Carol]

Ratings

Cocoa Factor = 4 out of 10
How good is this one for cozying up with a fire burning, a hot beverage of your choice, and your new Snuggy?

Magicality = 4 out of 10
How well does this one transport you back to the timeless wonderment beyond rationality when Christmas enveloped you in magic? AKA “The Santa Clause factor.”

A Date with Grandma and Aunt Bernice = 5 out of 10
How appropriate/awkward is this one to watch with relatives of all ages? Will hot kissing scenes or male rear nudity spoil the mood?

Tiny Tim’s Big Truths = 3 out of 10
From the mouths of babes come life’s most profound lessons. At the heart of this flick, how authentic, heartfelt and lasting is the message? Does it transcend Xmas clichés and ring bells?

Overall = 4 out of 10

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About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of bensten.wordpress.com.

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