Another day, another misbegotten “reimagining” of a much-loved classic. This time around, it’s a TV movie titled A Carol Christmas (2003)… which barely even counts as a pun, and doesn’t really work grammatically, but never mind.
For those who don’t know, this poor man’s Scrooged stars Tori Spelling as ‘Carol Cartman’, a cynical, selfish talk show host, who firmly believes that the only way to win the respect of her underlings is to treat them like crap, and make them wait on her every whim. Her long-suffering assistant is a conscientious single-mother named ‘Roberta’, played by Nina Siemaszko… and right there is where we hit our first Snafu. Any movie that gives the lion’s share of its screen-time to Spelling, while hiding Siemaszko away in a minor supporting role, is already off to a very poor start. Not that I have any particular grudge against Spelling, as such… I barely even know who she is, in fact… but the talent gap is pretty obvious when you see the two of them sharing a scene together. I also had a bugger of a job finding any decent pictures with Siemaszko in them, which is a crime against the internet, because that lady is hella cute!
Anyhoo, Carol decides to take a little nap before recording her big Christmas special, and she’s promptly visited by the ghost of her late ‘Aunt Marla’ (Dinah Manoff), who was a classic “stage parent”, driving her niece to become the monstrous diva she is today. Now Marla has experienced a posthumous epiphany, and vowed to show her protégé the light, by sending three spirits to blow her mind and embiggen her heart with the standard variety Christmassy visions. ‘The Ghost of Christmas Past’ is played by Gary Coleman, and ‘The Ghost of Christmas Present’ is played by William Shatner, so there’s some fun to be had there… and I thought the idea of making the “Scrooge”-figure an ambitious actress worked pretty well… but the dialogue is too bland, the “jokes” too corny, and there’s far too much mindless repetition. I also found it annoying that the husband of Carol’s estranged sister is repeatedly shown reading the original Dickens novella to his kids, but neither Carol nor the Ghosts ever acknowledge that they’re playing out the exact same story! Tch.
Meanwhile, I found it very hard to care about any of the “good” characters, because they were all so bland and soggy, like wet cardboard. Obviously we’re supposed to care about Roberta and the imminent custody battle that’s suggested by the unexpected arrival of her young daughter’s birth-father, during the “Christmas Present” section… but how do we know that the kid wouldn’t actually be better off with her father’s new family? We aren’t given any information about him, beyond the fact that he did a runner shortly before his daughter was born… which is pretty skeevy, but maybe he really has turned his life around? It’s pretty clear that Roberta’s job keeps her too busy to really spend any quality time with the child, and their house is a craphole in a scary part of town, so who knows? Point is, it hardly rivals the heart-breaking drama of Tiny Tim’s illness and impending early demise, does it? And making Carol’s lost love a hunky charity worker who’s just been crowned “Good Guy of the Year” by the local press, was just way too on-the-nose for my liking. The point of the original story was that Scrooge had neglected his soul mate, for the sake of financial security… not that he stopped working with his goody-two-shoes girlfriend in a soup kitchen! Meh. They also soft-pedalled the “Christmas Future” part, by simply showing Carol a vision of herself as an aged has-been appearing at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a new retirement home, before cutting to her boring, poorly attended funeral… the impact of which was spoiled by an earlier (nearly identical) flashback to Marla’s equally spartan wake. Meh.
Oh, and the younger version of Carol seen in the flashbacks to her childhood was played by Gage Golightly, who I had to mention because she has such an awesome name. She also seemed to be a better actress than her elder equivalent, but she wasn’t in it for very long, so it’s probably not fair to compare.