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Updated: Dec 8, 2023

Writer Richard Curtis knows how to create a Christmas film. His 2003 yuletide hit "Love Actually" has been on our annual must watch list for two decades!

His new holiday comedy GENIE is loaded with laughs and plenty of heart, thanks to a great cast.

Paapa Essiedu is terrific as Bernard, a workaholic assistant at a Manhattan Auction house owned by the extremely entitled Mr. Waxman (Alan Cumming).

As the film opens, Bernard works late yet again, missing a skating evening with his daughter Eve (Jordyn McIntosh) on her 9th birthday and wife Julie, played by Broadway star Denee Benton.

By the time he gets home, Bernard's lost Eve's gift and the last measure of Julie's patience. She suggests that they need some time apart and she and Eve leave for Julie's Mom's house outside the city.

Not many laughs so far.

Those arrive in the fine form of Genie Flora (Melissa McCarthy) who is conjured out of an ancient jewelry box that Bernard brought home from the auction house.

McCarthy is hilarious, playing off of Essiedu's perfect incredulity at her possibly being a genie. What I liked most about Curtis's script is that it never takes the easy road to obvious jokes.

Sure, Bernard manages to wish for some things we'd all like ($100k red sports car anyone?) but he's more concerned about using them for the other people in his life. Their trip to Bloomingdale's is hilarious, as are Flora's attempts to adapt her look to 2023 NYC. Running jokes about her knowing Jesus last time she was out of the box cracked me up. "Oh no, I thought he was kidding....!"

Eve's Mom isn't a throwaway character, she's well played by LaChanze and comedian Mark Maron has surprising chops as Lenny, the doorman of Bernard's building. Every scene between McCarthy's Flora and Maron's Lenny feels organic, ad-libbed and full of surprises.

McCarthy has a blast playing a fish out of water in her first time out of that box in a couple thousand years. She's playfully vindictive against anyone who doesn't have Bernard's back. A dinner with Bernard's entire dysfunctional family in which she grants them all three wishes is a highlight of the film. As Flora notes after dessert, it's hard to imagine those three wishes being used any worse than the hilariously bad choices made here. It's also great to see SNL vet Ellen Cleghorne back on the screen as Bernard's mother, she lands every punch line.

Essiedu is a find. He's got great heart and creates real empathy for Bernard, whose only dream is to bring his family back together. Alas, even with a magic genie in your corner, reigniting true love proves to be an elusive dream.

When Flora replaces Bernard's framed Messi jersey with a well known artwork, international implications arrive in the person of NYC Detective Perez. Veteran actor Luis Guzman (Magnolia, Carlito's Way) brings big laughs as he interrogates Bernard and Flora in separate rooms.

Like Curtis's other hits including "Notting Hill" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral", the last act brings plenty of heart into the mix and McCarthy handles the drama with ease, delivering a heartfelt holiday movie that leaves a big smile on your face.

Lightweight holiday fun with plenty of feel-good moments up its sleeve, GENIE spreads enough holiday cheer to earn a solid B.

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