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Blend “Elf” with “Aladdin” and you’d get something like “Genie,” a new Peacock movie that’s genuinely likable for a while before you realize it’s run out of new ideas and has no clue where to go with the ones it has left. A charming performance from lead Paapa Essiedu and co-star Melissa McCarthy’s joyous comic timing goes a long way to keep “Genie” together for a while—as do supporting turns from genuinely likable performers like Marc Maron and Luis Guzman—but this one lands in a weird place, making one wonder if the beloved writer of “Love Actually” even bothered to finish the screenplay. It's a PG-rated movie about a goofy genie and a dad who learns a life lesson, so the bar may be low for families looking for a bit of Hallmark-esque escapism this holiday season. But that doesn’t mean one can’t wish this was better.

Essiedu plays Bernard, who works for a horrendous boss played by Alan Cumming in a near-cameo that the actor likely knocked out in a single morning. Bernard has two brutal blows in the opening act of “Genie.” First, he works so hard that he forgets his daughter’s birthday, leading to his wife deciding it’s time for a trial separation. Second, he gets fired by Cumming’s meanie. He’s lost the girl, he’s lost the job, he’s lost his holiday spirit. Enter Melissa McCarthy as Flora, an actual genie that Bernard finds in a jewel box. Basically, time traveling two millennia, Flora is fascinated by the brave new world that includes smartphones, pizza, and Tom Cruise. McCarthy’s wide-eyed comic joy will be just enough for fans of this movie, and I’d be lying if I denied laughing a few times at her overt silliness. She does wide-eyed wonder at the state of the world we live in well, even if it starts to drag when one realizes that’s the extent of her character.

That’s the real overall problem with “Genie,” which bursts with energy initially but starts to suffer when it has to move away from McCarthy’s riffing to a little thing called plot. Flora and Bernard start working wishes to get his wife back, which is a drag narratively in suggesting that someone has to change their core to be a good partner. The final act does walk this back a bit, but we still have to watch an hour of Bernard wishing himself into a different guy. At one point, Bernard wishes his framed Messi jersey would become the literal Mona Lisa, and, believe it or not, our hero gets thrown in jail for stealing the painting. Here’s where one wonders if Curtis ever meant this to be a holiday movie. Most Christmas flicks don’t include art theft subplots.

And then there’s the end of “Genie,” which, light spoilers, basically lands at “don’t work so hard, guys.” The story of a workaholic who discovers his family is more important is an ancient family movie template, but most of those don’t have a genie who can grant literally any wish. By the time “Genie” is trying to pull heartstrings in the final act, it will really only work for the youngest members of the family. It probably will help if Dad’s a workaholic.

On Peacock now.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

Genie movie poster

Genie (2023)

Rated PG

93 minutes


Melissa McCarthy as Flora

Paapa Essiedu as Bernard Bottle

Denée Benton as Julie Bottle

Jordyn McIntosh as Eve Bottle

Marc Maron

Luis Guzmán

Alan Cumming


Nyasha Hatendi as Pete

Lyman Chen as Charles

John Cashin as Celt






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