British director Richard Curtis has had a storied career, delivering such classics as Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and of course Love Actually to the world. And on a TV front he gave us The Vicar of Dibley too, for which we can be forever grateful. In-between, he made some tv-movies too, including the overlooked but beloved Christmas classic Bernard and the Genie...
Bernard Bottle is an evaluator for a big business, and has just made waves after discovering some priceless paintings...Then promptly getting fired after he gives the paintings back to the sweet old ladies who sold them to him for such a low price. No sooner than he's been booted out by his greedy boss, he discovers his girlfriend has been cheating on him with his best mate. Now left with nothing, Bernard absentmindedly rubs an old lamp lying around his flat, and unleashes a pissed-off genie. After a rocky beginning, the two become friends, and Bernard decides to show this genie around and see what he's missed for the past 2000 years...
Bernard and the Genie is a real unsung classic! It's got its fans, certainly, and was hardly a flop when it came out, but certainly deserves more widespread love and attention. It's poignant and hilarious, full of great scenarios and dialogue.
Bernard is a great protagonist. Meek and unselfish, you really feel the genuine friendship between him and the genie, and you can tell he cares more about making others happy and treating his new friend to a fun time than focusing just on self-centered wishes.
Josephus the genie is the total opposite. Manic and hyperactive, and just a teensy-weensy bit violent, he's lots of fun. And thankfully he never comes across as too much, like he's just a selfish asshole. For example, as much as he's loving the modern world, this doesn't change the fact that he misses his old home, and wants to go back. It's these little things that endear you to a character, and give them humanity.
The villains are a hoot. Bernard's boss Charles Pinkworth is a delightfully evil scoundrel, who speaks in ye olde English for some reason, and never passes up an opportunity to screw someone over. Bernard's ex-girlfriend and ex-mate are amusingly nasty too, with their hypocritical appraisals of Bernard. All these ne'er-do-wells reach a suitable comeuppance by the end, and it's great to watch.
The movie embraces the Christmas spirit readily, and condemns the over-commercialisation of it too. It manages to do this without coming across as preachy or snide about it either. You know the sort, who'll complain that capitalism is bad, then get their point across by snatching a storebought present from a kid's arms and telling them Santa Claus isn't real. Well the joke's on those assholes, because they're the ones who won't get anything from Santa until they behave!
There's such a positive tone here, and you really get the feeling that for this one year at least the soulless corporations are taking the backseat, and Christmas gets to mean what it truly stands for. This is further illustrated with the Biblical references. Josephus is from the turn of the millennium, meaning he was buddies with Jesus, and offhandedly refers to many of the miracles and teachings. Where this comes into play the best is the mention of Jesus and his dealings with money lenders! A lot of ultra rich people try and act high and mighty, like Jesus wanted them to be obscenely rich and not share a cent, when in actual fact they were the only people he actually got angry over and beat the shit out of! Many people don't know that fact, so I really appreciate this movie (especially a goofy comedy like this!) for giving this lesson.
There are moments of drama and pathos too, and these range from effective to absolutely crushing! The ending in particular will leave some people in tears. The mix of comedy and drama s done really well, with both [tones] complementing the other really well, making them that much more impactful. The funny and joyous parts of the movie feel that much more after all the crap we saw the hero go through at the beginning.
Another plus (or negative, depending on how you look at it) is the runtime. At 67 minutes, Bernard and the Genie is very snug and breezy, never outstaying its welcome. But it 's very short, and it's such a sweet and enjoyable movie that I really wish it had've been longer. Although the plot never feels shortchanged. It's as long as it needs to be.
The actors here all do great jobs, and feel very distinct too. Alan Cummings is a likeable and sweet lead, never once coming across as a creepy villain as he often does. Lenny Henry meanwhile is boisterous and loud, in the best way. He brings a lot of life to his performance, without ever being obnoxious (although some viewers might feel like whacking him upside the head, who knows). The duo share great chemistry together. Rowan Atkinson has an entertaining part, playing it deliciously evil. Everyone else is fun too, with special mention going to Dennis Lill as Bernard's hilarious lift man Kepple, and the main girl for being a cutie-pie.
The soundtrack is a fun one! We've got some licensed tracks, including a lot of Christmas carols and songs, including the perfect choice of Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade. We get some original tracks too, like the intro which sings praises about Bernard and all about how amazing his life is becoming...before inverting when he gets sacked, dumped, and loses everything else. The rest of the score is great too, selling both the drama and the whimsy with perfection.
Bernard and the Genie is a must-watch for the holiday season. It's yet to see a proper DVD release or high quality upgrade, which is a shame, but it's all online to see at anytime, and regardless of the picture quality, the quality of storytelling shines through perfectly...