Photos | Bleecker Street Media / Sony Pictures Classic
From left: You probably won’t find “The Man Who Invented Christmas” on any holiday classics lists, but Christopher Plummer plays Scrooge, so that’s something. In “The Wife,” a woman (Glenn Close) questions her life choices as she travels to Stockholm with her husband (Jonathan Pryce), where he is to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
When it comes to newer entries to the cinematic Christmas canon, they really don’t make ‘em like they used to. Netflix may please some crowds with its silver fox Santa escapade “The Christmas Chronicles,” while a desperate stab at a seasonal version of “Shakespeare in Love” gave us the dull “The Man Who Invented Christmas.” Neither will be unseating my top holiday choices anytime soon.
If there were a recipe for “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” its main ingredient would be cheese. Like a Hallmark movie inexplicably starring Christopher Plummer, this movie about Charles Dickens and the origin of his short book “A Christmas Carol” doubles down on every lame storytelling device.
The cheap-looking period piece about Dickens (Dan Stevens) and his life as he wrote his classic holiday story shows him storming around his office, waiting for inspiration to strike. In a very unnecessary bit of explanation, Dickens explains to his maid and audience stand-in that once he comes up with the perfect name for a character, the character appears.
Then he comes up with the name “Scrooge,” and Scrooge appears. Lucky for us, Scrooge is played by Christopher Plummer, and if this was just “A Christmas Carol” starring Plummer, we’d be onto something. As the story plods along, each well-known character appears, and it is tantalizing to get teased with these bits of a superior potential film.
Nevertheless, we are stuck with Dickens’ writing process, and given maudlin flashbacks to his own childhood, and we see why Dickens was so in tune to the plight of the poor, little urchins and whatnot. It doesn’t sound that bad, but it’s so terribly hammy. Maybe the main ingredient is actually ham. It’s a ham and cheese roll-up, and maybe if it weren’t so long, I could have stomached it in the name of the holiday spirit.
Meanwhile, Netflix delivers an old-school Santa story with Kurt Russell, resplendent in a beautifully styled beard (commercial tie-in to a pomade possibly? Because I will pick some up for my husband.) and long, red leather coat, and involving some Christmas Eve misadventure in which tots, inevitably, regain their Christmas spirit. It’s very much a ‘90s-feeling movie, and reminded me of another technically awful Christmas movie I loved as a child, the one with Dudley Moore, “Santa Claus: The Movie.”
Like that one, this flick delivers some satisfying Santa details; at my house, we particularly enjoy the design of his sleigh. When Santa first appears, there’s this funny bit where he goes into a bar to enlist help from some adults and knows every one of them because he’s Santa. However, the plot leans too heavily on his knowing people’s secret wishes, and it wears a bit thin. Excessive peril, much of it completely devoid of logic, gets pretty hard to take, and some shoddily animated elves are a bridge too far for me.
Eventually Santa gets arrested and ends up doffing his coat and singing “It’s Christmas Time Pretty Baby.” For some, Santa’s jailhouse rock moment, with Steve Van Zandt and his band, will be a highlight; for me, it’s a good time for a much-needed eggnog refill. I don’t know if “The Christmas Chronicles” will stick around for Christmas Future, but it’s a serviceable, if shoddy, visitor for Christmas Present.
“The Christmas Chronicles” is currently streaming on Netflix, and by currently, I mean you are probably streaming it right now. “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is available to rent.