“It would be so great if this could be a film that people revisit every year…” ~ David Pevsner
We begin with a framing device. Jacob Marley is begging three disembodied heads for forgiveness after 10 years of punishment. A snarky fellow spirit tells Marley that he can lose his chains if he reforms a living human. “There’s always a loophole… Save somebody to help yourself.” Marley calls out the name “SCROOGE” as the title card appears. Will this cynical attitude extend to Scrooge’s reform? Will Marley discover a greater reason to do good than self-interest? No and no. We never see the snarky fellow spirit or the disembodied heads again. We won’t learn much about Marley either.
Here comes a second framing device. The voice of Judith Light speaks of the “the power of love” while the camera pans past families celebrating Christmas. Is this the voice of Christmas Present? Is she introducing us to characters from the story? No and no. Judith Light is simply listed as “Narrator.” We follow one of the nameless villagers into a bar named “SCREWS.”
Now we meet our supporting cast. Two cabaret artists are performing Christmas carols for an audience of twelve. There’s a sexy bartender named Randy who talks like he’s in a Noel Coward play and a sexy Bob Cratchit who… is also there. He’s not serving drinks but he apparently works at SCREWS too? Maybe he’s a valet. The patrons at this happening joint are joined by three charity workers. They’re here to see the bars’ mean owner, Ebenezer Scrooge. Not Edward or Eddie. The 2012 bar owner is named Ebenezer. He works in an office full of paper with no computers. And he says “Bah! Humbug!”
Charity worker 1: “And what’s up with the way he talks?…”
Charity worker 2: “Well he never finished high school and I think it’s a sore spot with him. He prides himself on his oh-so-perfect vocabulary”
Charity worker 3: “And his nastiness!”
So Scrooge is anachronistically “old timey.” Got it… Except they’ll drop this conceit a few scenes in. Now we hit the standard Dickens beats. Scrooge won’t give to the homeless LGBT youth center. Scrooge won’t grant Cratchit a health plan. Scrooge won’t visit his lesbian niece Freida’s family on Christmas Day. Oh… and Scrooge fires Randy, the sexy bartender, for mouthing off. Will Cratchit get to serve drinks now?
Charity worker: “Why do you stay in this business if you hate your customers so much?”
Scrooge: “I don’t hate my customers. I love them. All those fools and their easy money. Why do you think Jake and I named it Screws?”
Here’s a point I never got past. How has Scrooge’s shabby bar made him “rich?” We see him abuse employees and water down drinks. The Yelp reviews for this place must be terrible. We’ll later learn that he bought several bars and sold at least one of them to a condo developer. If his “fortune” came from real estate why is he still running a bar?
The cabaret artists decide to sing their “new song.” One of four bland original songs that pad out the running time. They sing over a montage of the charity workers counting donations and Freida’s family planning their party. If we’d combined this with the Judith Light montage we’d have saved some time.
“Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” ~ A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens
Scrooge eats Chinese food for dinner and shuffles up to his shabby apartment above the bar. Here is the one part this film gets right. Dickens’s Scrooge isn’t flaunting his wealth and swimming through a money bin. He lives in a dark, freezing house in constant fear of poverty. The film makers use their low budget to their advantage here, keeping Scrooge’s apartment empty and sad through two decades of flashbacks.
Now comes the ghost of Jacob Marley! He rings Scrooges doorbell (polite) and then walks through the door (rude). We saw him in the opening so clearly he’s got something important to say… Nope. Nothing beyond the standard Marley patter. Scrooge gets two jokes about MSG in his egg rolls and that’s it. But wait… Scrooge looks out the window and sees a homeless man surrounded by spooky wraiths. They turn to Scrooge and fly towards him! He screams and shuts the window. They tap on the glass. It’s a good thing they can’t travel through the wall like Marley did but… who are they? Fellow sinners? Ghosts of Christmas Future? We’ll never know because… like so many ideas in this movie… they will never be seen or mentioned again.
The First of the Three Spirits
Here’s the Ghost of Christmas Past! He’s suited and made up like an actor in a Noel Coward play… Wait… It’s Randy! Remember him? The sexy bartender? Is Scrooge imagining the faces of the ones he wronged? No. The Ghost says he actually is Randy. So Screws has a dead bartender? It’s best not to over think it. The Noel Coward look is interesting. I think for a moment we’re going to look at the lifestyles of gay men in the 1930’s. But no. Christmas Past is taking us to Scrooge’s youth in the 1970’s!
They transition between scenes by sniffing poppers ‘cuz gay 70’s. Except when they transition via fade out. Or a jump cut. Or a … caption? “Four years later” we’re told at one point. “FEZZIWIGS!” we’re told at another point. Sloppy.
A 20-something Scrooge is mocked in boarding school, rescued by an older sister, groped by a cute boy and thrown out by a conservative father. We wasted so much time on montages that these scenes are rushed past. I thought Scrooge never finished high school? Why is he living in a college dorm? Or are these supposed to be CW style teenagers? They look a little long in the tooth for that.
Now Scrooge is at the baths being cruised by a cockey young Marley… who talks like one of the Jets in West Side Story. He takes him to meet Bruce Vilanch’s Fezziwig. He’s a creeper in a gold mumu who rips open Scrooge’s shirt and offers him a “job” at his night club.
Marley hints that Scrooge has been selling himself on the street and could make more money selling himself at the club. So Fezziwig’s a pimp? More like Dickens’s Fagin? He says he takes care of lots of boys from the streets as long as they’re hot. Will Scrooge be a gogo dancer? A bartender? Or will he have a nebulous job like Cratchit?
Scrooge and Marley trick a drunken Fezziwig into signing over his bar to them, then kick him out. Fezziwig sobs and moans as they cackle and escort him out of the building. The Ghost tries to shame him for this.
Scrooge: “He was using me. Using Jake. Using us for our looks. And a lot of other things I’d rather not remember.”
Christmas Past: “He was paying you a fair wage and teaching you the business.”
So is Scrooge an ungrateful bartender? Or was Fezziwig a sexual predator? If it’s the latter does this explain Scrooge’s contempt for the gay community? Scrooge’s boyfriend dumps him after his treatment of Fezziwig. Then “gets sick” and dies off screen. Was the boyfriend aware that Fezziwig was molesting and/or pimping out Scrooge? We’re digging into something dark and complex here… so naturally the film dismisses it.
The End of It
The film’s ready to wrap things up. We hastily dash through the rest of Dickens’s story beats with no time for reflection or emotional resonance. Some highlights:
- Christmas Present was a drunk regular at the bar. But she only lives a day, and dies at midnight so… guess she won’t be visiting the bar anymore? She sings and visits the random families from the prologue.
- Hot Bob Cratchit takes his shirt off to change into a Christmas sweater.
- The Cratchit children are terrible actors. Tim himself does a lousy job faking an asthma attack. Another is clearly giggling while the family sobs over Tim’s death.
- We’re repeatedly told that Frieda’s wife likes Scrooge because “she’s a Buddhist.”
- Want and Ignorance are played by scary puppets.
- Christmas Future is played by Jojo Baby in a black dress and face wrap. Jojo was not in the prologue at the bar.
- The Cabaret artist sings a “yea Scrooge is dead” song. In the night club he owned. Scrooge sings a “yea Scrooge is nice” reprise in the epilogue… again in his own club.
- Scrooge is sad to find his future corpse in his apartment. But when he sees his grave stone he really freaks out. Screaming, wailing, scenery munching upset. The priorities seem skewed.
- Judith Light comes back to narrate the epilogue. She tells us Scrooge became a “third father to Tim.” Tim didn’t have enough screen time to establish this connection.
- Scrooge hooks up with one of the charity workers.
- No clue what happened to Marley’s ghost. Or how he died in the first place.
The film has good intentions. There’s none of the condescending sexism of the Hallmark films or the tyrannical politics of the Christmas Prince series. Just a sloppy attempt by some well meaning amateurs to retell a public domain story. What frustrates me is all the wasted potential. Checking off the plot points is not enough. There are stories to be written about the uneasy relationship between generations of gay men. Of the self-loathing and resentment that internalized homophobia can bring. Of the need for the LGBT community to care for their own. The spark was there but got lost along the way.
“…it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” ~ Charles Dickens