It's Christmas, Carol! (2012)

I'm being particular about the title this time, because there seems to be some confusion. The movie is actually listed a couple times on Amazon, with different versions having different streaming tiers. The difference is a subtle one: one version includes the comma, while the other doesn't. It's clearly present in the title appearing onscreen in the movie, so that's the one I'm going with.

Speaking of titles, this is far from the first modern re-imagining of A Christmas Carol I've seen where the role is gender flipped and the lead is named "Carol." These reviews won't be run in the order watched, but by my count this is the third, and I'm aware of at least one more. Hell, this isn't even the first I've seen produced by Hallmark featuring a legendary science-fiction star as a ghostly helper. The 2003 TV movie, "A Carol Christmas" included William Shatner, so for balance to exist in the universe I suppose we needed a similar version with an iconic Star Wars star.

The star in question is Carrie Fisher, who plays an amalgamation of Marley and the three spirits (not an entirely new conceit: some silent adaptations did the same thing, as have movies even more loosely inspired by Dickens's work, such as It's A Wonderful Life). Speaking of the line between adaptation and inspiration, this leans more towards the latter. Conceptually, it's more akin to Scrooged (or the aforementioned 2003 movie) than a formal adaptation. It's set in the modern day in America, and characters are aware of the existence of A Christmas Carol. The in-world explanation here is that yuletide interventions are common, and Dickens "embellished" one into the classic. So not quite a sequel, but in a similar vein.

Let's talk story, because while this includes elements from A Christmas Carol, it's not at all the same thing. The main character is, of course, Carol (played by Emmanuelle Vaugier), the president of a successful publishing house. She's mean-spirited, profit-driven, and cruel to her subordinates, going so far as to fire one (a single mother, no less) on Christmas Eve and requiring the rest to work on Christmas Day. She's also mentoring her VP, Kendra, a kind-hearted woman who looks up to her and is on track to become her. Three more of her employees are secretly planning to leave the company and start their own publishing company, taking their clients with them. And she never makes time to see her mother. Meanwhile, Carol's ex reenters her life due to the fact he's finished a novel that crosses her path.

Need a breather? Yeah, the movie's largest flaw is it gets bogged down with too many subplots. None of them are exactly bad, but there's more going on here than there needs to be.

Around this time, the ghost of her former boss, Eve (I guess one obvious Christmas pun wasn't going to cut it), enters the picture. This is, of course, Carrie Fisher, a fact the movie lampshades at least twice, once by featuring a Star Wars book in the background of a shot, then later by having Fisher mention the franchise in passing. Unlike Marley, Eve wasn't at all like Carol. Instead, she was a kind, loving person who built her company on a love of literature. Carol turned the company into a far more successful enterprise, but did so by valuing money over quality and work over human connection.

The movie quickly transitions to the Christmas Past section. I should note that time jumps are accomplished primarily through the use of practical effects, clever editing, and the occasional subtle effect. Considering the majority of TV adaptations I've seen from this era use gaudy CG, this is worth lauding.

We start with Carol's childhood, where the Christmas season was spent following her single mother from job to job as she worked tirelessly to earn enough to support them. The scene isn't great, but I always appreciate movies portraying a working parent as loving rather than absent. One of the central themes of the movie is the difference between "working to live and living to work," and to its credit, it does manage to explore the idea in some depth. Also, I like that this at least acknowledges that poverty is a bad state to grow up in.

Jumping ahead, we see Carol meet Ben, an idealistic writer dreaming of completing a novel. They're happy for a while, but Carol's fear of poverty causes her to drive him away.

Jumping ahead to the Present, we get a plethora of sequences exploring all the characters from the beginning. Carol learns about the impending revolt in her office, she sees how the woman she fired - a single mom with two kids - is preparing to celebrate as best she can, she discovers her ex is still having a hard time, she learns Kendra wants to write and views her as a mentor, and she realizes her mother misses her. I'm glossing over all this, but believe me when I say there's a lot of screen time devoted to these developments.

Prior to Christmas Yet to Come, Carol googles A Christmas Carol to remind her what she's in for. While it's obviously absurd anyone (let alone the president of a publisher) would need to review who the last ghost is, I still like the idea of someone trapped in the story referring back to the story as a sort of cheat. Through all this, Carol has resisted Eve's message and fought back, but of course that's about to change.

The Christmas future sequence deviates a bit, in part because Carol's ready (or at least thinks she's ready) for the revelation, pointing out she knows she's going to die, since everyone eventually does. Instead, Eve brings her to a future in which she's alive and well, surrounded by loved ones on Christmas. She's married to Ben, she has grandkids, and she's happy. Eve then informs her this is a possible future, then takes her to a timeline where she's died. Only Kendra, now a perfect reflection of Carol, stops by her funeral, and then only briefly. Carol realizes she doesn't want to die alone and asks for help changing as Eve walks away.

After a cut for a commercial break, Carol wakes up at home. She calls the operator to ask what day it is (a bit of anachronism in the age of cell phones, but I'll allow it for a great gag around the "it's Christmas" reveal). She then sets out to make everything right, which... yeah... this takes a while. She apologizes to and rehires the woman she fired, makes everyone at the office a member of the board, gives Kendra a sabbatical, and reconnects with her mother, who she learns also dreamt of the "good future" Carol saw. At her mom's insistence, she sets out to ask Ben's forgiveness and of course finds him ready to rekindle their romance, because how the hell did you expect this to end?

So. Where to start? As I implied at the start, this is less an adaptation than an homage. Characters and concepts from Dickens are combined, separated, and remixed in various ways, some clever and others dull. There's no exact analog for Tiny Tim, though the fired employee's two kids fill a similar role (though neither seems to be sick). Both that woman, Kendra, and several other employees are given aspects of Bob Cratchit's arc. At the same time, one of those employees, a comical man heavily coded gay (though this isn't textually confirmed or denied) is given Fred's name. Meanwhile, more of Fred's arc is given to Carol's mother, as well as Ben's sister (who also has a scene loosely inspired by the one where Scrooge sees Belle's family in the original).

It's also worth noting that the "Yet to Come" section, while a massive departure from the original narrative, is actually in the spirit of the book. I've spoken before about Dickens effectively inventing the concept of possible timelines in A Christmas Carol: expanding that makes sense.

And since we're talking about positives, there are a couple scenes that could have used another take, but overall Vaugier does really good work in the lead role. I was particularly impressed how well she pulled off playing a younger version of herself that honestly had me squinting to confirm it wasn't a different actress. I'm sure the make-up department deserves some credit, as well, but she did some impressively subtle work through expressions alone. Needless to say, Fisher is also a lot of fun. She gets the bulk of the best lines, as you'd expect.

There's some clever back-and-forth between the two leads that forgives quite a few of the movie's intermittent pacing issues. The script, in general, is better than you'd expect given the medium and production company. It does suffer from the issue where the character is comically villainous at the outset (a common mistake in Christmas Carol adaptations), but it makes up for this by toning back her redemption to relatively believable levels. The character struggles with making the right decisions at the end, which is both more relatable and - in this case - comical.

From a conceptual standpoint, I'm somewhat torn. There's something to be said for deconstructing the original then using the pieces to create something new, and - at the risk of repeating myself - there really was a great deal of thought put into the premise. At the same time, this entirely strips out the political themes in Dickens's work, and that never sits well with me. On the other hand, it does avoid the pitfalls around religion (the movie doesn't endorse any specific faith), and it doesn't make the common error of centering the story around whether the character loves Christmas enough.

On a whole, this was decent. The problem is that the pacing issues I keep alluding to really do matter. I like a lot of aspects of this movie much more than I liked the experience of watching it. Even that wasn't bad, but I wouldn't consider this a must-watch entry or anything, despite getting a few bonus points for having the 1935 version of Scrooge playing on a TV in a scene.