by Philip Price
There is a line in “Lady Bird” that goes, “different things can be sad. It’s not all war!” Which not only served to make me feel more validated in times of my own sadness despite knowing there are countless others who have much more to complain about than myself, but this line of dialogue also kind of reassured me that all kinds of films could be great-not just the serious dramas that carry a weight of self-importance. Maybe “Lady Bird” does this somewhat intentionally as it knows its target audience will be the twenty to thirtysomethings that grew up in the early aughts as depicted in the film, largely compiled of the more artistic and individualistic states of mind that flock to such indie fare, who will inevitably contemplate if a coming-of-age comedy, such as “Lady Bird,” can be as great a film as anything else they've seen this year despite not necessarily being about something as earth-shatteringly important as other movies undoubtedly will be. Maybe writer and first-time director Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”) understood who her audience would be and wanted to reassure them of the safe intellectual zone where it would be okay to praise her debut to levels of near perfection it ultimately wouldn't be able to match triggering the inevitable backlash that she would blindly blow past due to her effortless charm. Maybe Gerwig recognized all of this amid writing the film and decided to consciously insert this line of reassurance reminding all of us that it's okay to love her movie as much as you admire whatever Steven Spielberg or Paul Thomas Anderson are putting out this awards season, or maybe she was simply re-living a feeling from her youth when someone made her feel small about something she felt was big. Either way, the fact of the matter is that “Lady Bird,” while admittedly specific to a certain demographic of the population (I'm all for diversity, but that doesn't mean we have to denounce films where there isn't as much we think there could be), is not just a straightforward coming-of-age movie, but one that is more about the navigation of that period in life that does the seemingly impossible task of collecting all these moments and disparate elements that no doubt each felt like defining moments in Gerwig's own adolescence and brings them together in a film that allows each to permeate throughout the entirety of the movie while at the same time shaping a thorough, comprehensive picture of our titular character.
In what might be one of the best opening scenes of the year we are introduced to senior in high school Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (the consistently great Saoirse Ronan) who is riding shotgun with her mom, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), as they're on their way home from a college tour and finishing up listening to "The Grapes of Wrath" on cassette. The discussion starts simple enough with Marion requesting Lady Bird resist her urge to immediately turn on the radio, but instead allow the two of them time to really soak in the wealth of what they've just spent countless hours absorbing. This sparks a weightless debate between the two of them which quickly escalates into a squabble that doesn't even have anything to do with the original disagreement that spawned the argument. Things continue to rise, the words becoming more and more heated until Lady Bird decides to do the only thing she can do to escape her present confines. A smash cut to Lady Bird in the middle of mass wearing a pink cast that is marked with a certain obscenity aimed at a certain maternal figure caps off this scene that immediately tells us what we're in store for. It's downright fantastic, totally human, and just really, funny. It's 2002 and Lady Bird is ready to leave behind her hometown of Sacramento for somewhere with "more culture" as her parents, including recently unemployed father Larry (Tracy Letts), have restricted her to Catholic school for what is said to be her own well-being after her brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), saw someone get stabbed outside the public school. The point being, the McPherson's are decidedly middle class and Lady Bird has her sights set on more in life. Marion works double shifts at the hospital to make ends meet, Miguel and his live-in girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) are college graduates who are biding their time bagging groceries, and Larry inherently feels like the kind of father who would do or give up anything for his children-which includes whatever dreams he might have had prior to those kids entering the picture. As someone whose ambitions always seem to outweigh my actual talent I wholly identified with Lady Bird's hopes of attending an East coast college like Yale, but not Yale because she would never have the credentials (or the last name, or wealth) to get in, but somewhere akin to it. Marion isn't keen on her only daughter and youngest child moving so far away while Larry, who has seemingly always played the good guy in the parenting roles, has a great conviction to help his daughter make her goals a reality. At school, Lady Bird has a best friend in Julie (the wonderful Beanie Feldstein) who together brave their final year of high school and the many challenges that come along with that including the inevitability of boys and the unpredictability of drama club.
What makes “Lady Bird” so appealing and so achingly real though, is what makes all Gerwig and her partner, Noah Baumbach's, works so cutting and honest, but equally as beautiful which is the naturalistic quality of the writing. Of course, great performers who can convey these meanderings in meaningful ways certainly helps, but Gerwig has spoken openly about how much she dislikes the thought of improvisation and how much she appreciates sticking to the words she has worked so hard to put to the page. This doesn't necessarily indicate a desire for dialogue that is flashy or flowery, but more Gerwig desires to stick to the script due to the fact she clearly puts in the effort to make her writing not sound like writing at all. Gerwig instead uses the improvisational impulse of the given scenario and then sets it up to give it the quality of feeling spur of the moment when in fact the actors follow the script down to the punctuation. This is a task, for sure, but this is where so many of Gerwig and Baumbach's collaborations have succeeded in the past and “Lady Bird” is thankfully no different. While overall, I really liked the movie and much of what it had to say, how it said it, and how searingly funny it is, what I genuinely loved about it was the fact it never allows you, the audience member, to pin it down as one single thing. Sure, it would be easy to label the film as a coming-of-age tale that exists in the realm of a high school comedy, but this structure and the familiar beats of that genre are only present to form an opening to what's on Gerwig's mind. From the moment Lady Bird jumps out of the moving vehicle in that opening sequence it's obvious Gerwig is intent on upending each of the familiar tropes she touches upon in her movie. The difference is that Gerwig, in her writing, has included details-specific details-that by default make the story ring true to a broad audience who has experienced some form of that specificity in their own lives. And so, yeah, you bet your ass there is a scene that takes place in an airport at the climax of the film that involves a mad dash between two family members, but Gerwig is intelligent enough to know that while structure and plot devices are necessary if one is sly and/or subtle enough they can bury the tropes and structure under the originality of the story-if the story and the characters are strong enough. We may recognize these moments from movies that have come before, but “Lady Bird” manipulates them to appeal to the familiar while adding an unexpected layer to the sequence. In terms of this airport sequence it is both very movie-like and it isn't. This sequence doesn't represent relief or a reunion, but rather it reinforces the level of regret so many of us live within our daily lives while contrasting this with what it so liberating about our titular character in the she chooses to live without such a thing.
This structure and the familiar beats of the genre it fits snuggly into are only present to form an opening into what's on Gerwig's mind. So, what is it that's on Gerwig's mind you might ask? That would be this idea of one person's coming of age being another person's letting go. In “Lady Bird” specifically, this is about the mother/daughter relationship between Ronan and Metcalf's characters who play off on another wonderfully as the story shows us time and time again how those emotions of resentment, of strong hatred, and annoyance are ones only Lady Bird can feel about her mother. If anyone outside of her father even looks as if they're considering saying something slightly offensive about her mom-she pops up and is the first to defend her. This is what the film is at its core: a love story between mother and daughter and how they fight, and they love equally as hard. There is a scene between Ronan and Metcalf in the film that encapsulates this relationship perfectly while demonstrating how good both performers are as well. The pair go to a thrift store to try and find a dress for Lady Bird to wear to Thanksgiving with her new boyfriend, Danny (Lucas Hedges), as she'll be meeting his family for the first time. Speaking of Hedges, he gets a scene that will absolutely destroy you if any semblance of a heart exists within your chest. While shopping for dresses though, Lady Bird sees that her mother can be nice to others, but not to her. Lady Bird feels that typical constant nagging as is done by mother's, while constantly nagging at her about such things as dragging her feet and then in the moment she finds her dress they are best friends again. It is through this relationship and through these key lead performances that Gerwig executes her sentiment of coming around to appreciate home or what you've known as home, but never appreciating it until you're on the cusp of leaving. This is one of those broad generalities that hooks the audience, while the deliberate details of chronicling Lady Bird and her mother's favorite Sunday pastime of touring open houses far outside their price range, that of watching a junior varsity football coach try to apply his skills to drama club, or the fantastic details courtesy of 2002 that include the likes of t-shirts that say, "Save a Horse, Ride A Cowboy," and the consistent use of Dave Matthews Band, "Crash Into Me," that make the film overwhelmingly specific to a particular experience and thus all the more connecting with each individual viewer. Beyond Ronan and Metcalf, whose performances truly are fantastic, you will automatically fall in love with Feldstein's Julie, you'll want to hug Letts' Larry, while wanting to punch Timothée Chalamet's alt-rock, anti-establishment Kyle. The Catholic school Lady Bird attends is also something of a major player in the way Gerwig seems to view how much it influenced her own youth (“Lady Bird” is most definitely at least semi-autobiographical), but Gerwig nor her film ever look down on the church or demean it in the snarky way one might expect (there is a great practical joke played on a nun though, and an even better payoff to that joke later), but rather Lady Bird more comes to embrace the time she's spent there and the friends she's made while appreciating the silent understanding that seems to exist between she and the staff that includes Sister Sarah (Joan Smith) and Father Leviatch (Stephen Henderson). In so many ways, “Lady Bird” flies past so many other coming-of-age tales, but it is the film's consistent ability to hit raw nerves in such honest fashions that really allow it to soar.
by Philip Price
There is a sense of un-education that comes with viewing “The Florida Project.” It seems as if director Sean Baker (who broke out with 2015's “Tangerine,” but has three prior features to his credit) is intent on showing audiences that the magic of the cinema can exist without the typical three act structure that Hollywood films have conditioned audiences to expect and it's not that other films haven't done the same thing or attempted to prove as much, but this seems a point of real effort and focus on the part of “The Florida Project.” That isn't to say the picture becomes sidetracked or caught up in this endeavor, but rather that it makes for an interesting take when going into the film. This won't even necessarily hinder expectations, but it is a facet of the film that is to be observed in terms of craft as the film slyly deconstructs our expectation of what a movie is supposed to be by showing that such a product can still be engaging and entertaining while not necessarily delivering an outright objective for our protagonist to accomplish by the time the hour and 45-minute mark hits. Rather, “The Florida Project” is a beautiful rendering of childhood on the fringes with the central subjects not necessarily being aware of their surroundings or situations, but more it addresses how the innocence of childhood tends to take away any association of status and instead replaces it with the simplicity of making the most of what one must work with. In this way, “The Florida Project” accomplishes the difficult feat of being both incredibly light and fun in the way it elicits smiles from the audience as we witness the preciousness of youth while being simultaneously just as heartbreaking when it comes to the realization of the reality these people are living. It is a testament to innocence in many ways as the film exercises this abandonment of structure by chronicling the adventures of three six to seven-year old's during the summer months as they live just outside Orlando and in the shadow of Disney World-the happiest place on earth. It abandons structure because these children know nothing of such a thing in their lives while what comes to pass is necessary, undoubtedly for the best, but also incredibly emotional because of the nearly two-hour journey we've just experienced with these characters. It's a chronicling of that transition from innocence to experience in many ways, but this isn't the focus of the film and neither is the backdrop of this poverty-stricken community, but rather it is the wonder and hope that makes childhood universal and, in turn, “The Florida Project” so affecting.
It's clear from the outset, and I mean from the first frame of the film, that “The Florida Project” is not your typical fare in terms of dramatic movie-making, but instead this serious-minded, albeit bright colored film is more a comedy than anything else. That opening shot of our young protagonist, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), sitting against a lilac wall with her friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Dicky (Aiden Malik) as Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" blares from the soundtrack makes it instantly memorable. It also instantly sets the tone for the kind of inherently free-wheeling attitude both the movie and its young main characters exhibit. Moonee and her friends run free through the back ditches and grassy islands between the budget motel, The Magic Castle, where Moonee and Scooty live and the similarly run down complex where Dicky lives. They are bored and must entertain themselves in the months when they aren't occupied by school while their parents are forced to figure out how to both look after their children while coming up with enough money to keep their regular motel rooms week to week. Moonee's mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), is a child herself and someone who can't seem to hold a steady job. Whether this is due to the tattoo's that plague every open section of her body, the multiple piercings on her face, or little more than her general bad attitude and problem with authority the fact of the matter is there's no ambition to do otherwise. While Halley is by no means a good mother and possibly the worst kind of role model for a young woman the performance of Vinaite and her ability to make Halley both this road that obviously holds nothing but bad things and the same lack of opportunity for her daughter while also presenting moments of real adoration for her daughter that places a firm belief in the viewer that she loves her daughter does not go unnoticed. And Moonee loves her mom. There is never any question in this as the two never engage in a single argument, but instead they exist on this wavelength where no matter what the other does there is an unspoken understanding that this is simply how life works for them. Moonee knows nothing else and thus has no reason to imagine anything beyond these endless summer days where she and her friends run around causing trouble, swindling strangers for ice cream money, spitting on car windows, and then coming back to The Magic Castle where Scooty's fast-food working mom provides them dinner. The movie navigates these potentially endless waters to individual microcosms of the day to day quality of life for this subset of the population that aren't technically homeless, but are maybe more devastating for being so as they are a group hidden from the public view; a group not living paycheck to paycheck, but day to day with no idea what tomorrow might hold.
It is in Baker's ability as a director to essentially string these disparate vignettes into a cohesive whole that “The Florida Project” finds its thriving heartbeat. This lack of order, but ultimate unity is due to the lack of any real driving plot devices, but such freedom allows for Baker and fellow screenwriting partner Chris Bergoch to explore as many aspects of these people's lives as they so desire. First and foremost are the children and their day to day. We meet Moonee as mentioned in the previous paragraph, but come to be aware of the fact rather quickly that she's not the sweet, well-rounded, or polite little girl the movies would have you believe most little girls are. Rather, we see that Moonee is something of a troublemaker. This isn't surprising given what seems to be the nature of the family she was born into while a main idea of the film deals in this population being products of their environment to which they grow comfortable in and only breed more individuals nurtured by the same environment. Baker is also keen not to ask how we might solve this epidemic nor does he judge his characters in any way with his filmmaking, but rather he allows them to breathe; simply observing them. In one of Moonee's first acts in the film she, along with Scooty and Dicky, vandalize a car that belongs to Jancey (Valeria Cotto) who has just moved into the same complex as Dickey, the Futureland Inn, with her grandmother who is acting as her mother to both herself and her little sister. What at first is a source of conflict and resentment between Jancey's grandmother and Moonee's group of hooligans (affectionately referred to as "the kids from the purple place") is the beginning of a rather special friendship between Prince's Moonee and Cotto's Jancey, especially after Dickey moves away and drama that ignites between Halley and Scooty's mom, Ashley (Mela Murder), forces Scooty and Moonee apart. It is in this friendship that Baker finds his emotional throughline. It may seem a given that Baker would invest the biggest emotional arc in the core relationship of Moonee and her mother, but he doesn't go this route as that is a relationship that is already established and understood when the film begins. Instead, “The Florida Project” tracks the relationship of Moonee and Jancey in a way where it is key we see Moonee as the leader of her own ragtag bunch of mischiefs and that she is this unbreakable and bold persona that sustains as she assists her mom in buying perfume at wholesale prices in order to re-sell them to unsuspecting tourists at "discount prices", or when she and her friends break into condemned houses and experiment with lighters, to the little things such as disobeying motel manager and maintenance man Bobby (Willem Dafoe) who inadvertently becomes a kind of father figure to all the lost children that end up finding their way to and making The Magic Castle something of a safe haven. This is all critical because, despite Baker's aversion to standard structure, the movie does eventually reach a climax in the building inevitability's evidenced by the mounting acts of desperation from Halley that creates one of if not the most heart-wrenching moments in cinema this year when we see that facade Moonee has vigilantly carried throughout the movie finally crumble. It's just a shame this moment of raw emotion and pure, honest confusion is followed by one of the most visually ugly and abrupt endings of the year as well.
It is in these, what feels like, largely improvised performances that “The Florida Project” really thrives. Prince is especially charming in her lead role that is meant to allow the audience a trip back in time to when we too were children and there was no need to be aware of or care how much you had or didn't, but rather the chance to explore this enchanted world you created for yourself out of the familiarity of it all-a place where each day was truly a new adventure. Prince and Cotto capture this in their genuinely funny and equally precious interactions. The fleeting innocence of Moonee is then juxtaposed with the harsh reality of what we know Halley is facing. Seeing both perspectives proves insightful enough that the audience grasps what Baker is looking to discuss while most importantly, striking that balance between what he clearly wants the film to feel like and what he hopes viewers take away from the experience. “The Florida Project,” as said earlier, is largely a comedy, but that doesn't automatically mean it carries no real dramatic weight. This high-wire act of tone and being able to sell, but do so in an understated manner, what the film is hoping to preach as the line separating these contrasting world views begins to fade as Moonee is forced to mature and comprehend faster than she might have under different circumstances. Vinaite is equally as impressive as a first-time actor as Halley is a source of both great frustration and deep sympathy. One can't help but to wonder what circumstances in her life must have brought her to this point while at the same time realizing she is undoubtedly mirroring her upbringing with Moonee who, if she continues the relationship as it is with Moonee at six up through to her pre-teen and teen years, Moonee will most certainly end up in the same boat as her mother. What these kids are witness to, whether they are consciously aware of it or not, is shaping them and as they seek out these daily thrills and inevitably find trouble along the way it's not difficult to see how such escapades would naturally progress. Dafoe is the MVP of the piece though, as his Bobby kind of holds these families together and supports them as well as he can despite having no dog in the fight other than his compassion. Finally, the other most notable character in the film is that of the city itself. This is not the Orlando of Disney's Magic Kingdom, but rather the one where all of those who work inside the park or work at the restaurants around it go after they leave work. Baker is sure to highlight all the extravagant architecture along the strip that is meant to entice visitors who are looking for vacation wear, but not looking to spend Disney prices. These bright and sometimes unintentionally frightening buildings only add to the idea and feeling that where Moonee and her friends exist is in this kind of sun-drenched Neverland. If only childhood, especially those of the ones we see depicted here, were in fact eternal-the world might be a brighter place for more of us, for much longer.
by Philip Price
“The Man Who Invented Christmas” may as well be one of those holiday Hallmark originals for all of the dopey, saccharine spins it puts on Charles Dickens coming up with "A Christmas Carol" and the overall quality of life in 1843, but luckily director Bharat Nalluri (“Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day”) was working from a screenplay by writer/actor Susan Coyne (“Mozart in the Jungle”) as adapted from Les Standiford’s 2008 novel of the same name where distinctive features of those Hallmark originals (or hallmarks of those hallmarks) come to be non-existent. There is no gushing love story at the center of it, no excessive amount of perfectly pressed pants or flannel (or whatever the equivalent was in 19th century London), but rather there is this overriding feeling that came to pass throughout the entirety of the experience that was one of lovable cheese. The usual suspects of certain clichés and plot points might not all be present, but that feeling of the overwhelming power of pure holiday love and all that it can conquer, is. And while this may just be due to the fact I’m a sucker for the Hallmark channels block of holiday programming to the point I draw every holiday-themed movie back to these standards “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is so family friendly and earnest in its intent that it’s hard to discern between what the movie wants you to feel and what this material should make you feel. As another in a line of “story behind the story” films that have, for one reason or another, decided to catch on some 13 years after “Finding Neverland” made it a hot idea to studio execs “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is perfectly serviceable in delivering all of the broad moments required by an audience that craves what they already know; the name Marley coming from a waiter at a restaurant where Dickens was eating for instance coupled with the tidbit that he “collected names” for his works from his everyday life. Things one could have just as easily assumed without having concrete proof of them, but this is the kind of depth and insight “The Man Who Invented Christmas” offers: facts that might not have been necessarily well-known, but ones that are rather obvious in that they aren’t surprising and offer little to no real drama that would justify this story about Dickens writing his career-defining novel being a story.
At the onset of our story it is 1843 and Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is three books past the success of Oliver Twist and has yet to yield another hit with each of his last three works amounting to little more than simultaneous critical and commercial flops. It is at this juncture that Dickens and his friend as well as seeming agent Mr. Forster (Justin Edwards) decide to part ways with the publishing houses they have relied on to garner Mr. Dickens the prominence that he is presently enjoying and instead self-publish Dickens latest work when it becomes apparent those who were once happy to profit from Dickens name and talents no longer believe in his vision. The problem with this is that, when “The Man Who Invented Christmas” begins, Dickens doesn't have much of a vision for himself much less his latest book. Dickens, who is married to wife Kate (Morfydd Clark) and has four or five of his eventual ten children in 1843, has encountered writer's block, but along with Forster sets himself a deadline for which to deliver his next work that he ultimately gains inspiration from via his family's new house maid, Tara (Anna Murphy), who he overhears telling the children a bedtime story dealing in spirits and their returning from the dead. With multiple children, many more on the way, and the expense of such excesses as multiple maids and cooks not to mention the renovations taking place at his home, Dickens feels a bit in over his head with the bills beginning to pile up. Determined to recover and make it through with all facets of his life still intact, Dickens decides to write a Christmas story and self-publish it in less than two months. As Dickens labors writing on such short notice, his estranged father (Jonathan Pryce) and mother (Ger Ryan) come to bunk with him bringing about painful memories of his father and the negative effects the man's presence had on his childhood-largely focusing on the senior Dickens lack of financial responsibly, that often left young Charles curious as where his next meal might come from. The aforementioned case of writer's block and the arrival of his father essentially forces Dickens to confront his personal demons which, once such context is provided, this film essentially does through displaying Dickens creative process as he imagines his characters, names them, converses with them to find their voice, and so on and so forth. Here we're privy mainly to his creation of Ebenezer Scrooge (a delightful Christopher Plummer) whom Dickens struggles for inspiration against in this account of how challenging creating something truly memorable is, but how rewarding it can be as well-especially when it comes to define the essential soul of modern Christmas.
With as much taken into consideration “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is also a brisk hour and 45 minutes that accounts for every single moment in Dickens life at this time that would come to influence the writing of A Christmas Carol and not much else, leaving audiences no choice but to think that every little occurrence in every aspect of Dickens life no doubt ultimately made its way in some capacity into his writing. There are connections at every turn, which gives the misleading impression that it is easier to coerce such details into a cohesive story when you decide to utilize everything that is thrown at you when the real skill is deciphering what's inspiring, what's worth keeping, and what is not. That “The Man Who Invented Christmas” reduces every moment to be a key one is the major disservice it does to aspiring writers who will look to the film hoping to catch some glimpse of what might have been one of the great's approach to the craft, but if you're an aspiring writer you should also know not to get your history from the movies and so, as with everything, it's all about balance, folks. And while Nalluri's film may be anything but well-rounded with its excessively sweet and sentimental core flourishing over every one of the more dramatic beats the film dares to hit it’s not difficult to see all is meant well and done with a kind of ambition that is necessary to even get a film such as this off the ground in the current cinematic landscape. Sure, the film knows nothing of the meaning of being understated, but when we get scenes where Dickens goes to his publishers to have a discussion about his latest idea and what they are willing to pay for it and pitch how they might publish and promote it while then simultaneously citing the inspirations for Scrooge’s view towards Christmas there is a sense of pleasure in the obvious-a communal feeling that is inspired by the fact we all understand what is being inspired and, while obvious, is still fun to behold even if it isn't wholly factual; the essence of what might have happened feels justified, at least. There are other moments though, sequences really, where Stevens’ Dickens locks himself in his study and works through character creations, allowing Plummer to really flourish in this unique opportunity to play Scrooge as an amalgam of ideas rather that the caricature he has become so many years later, that are more informative in respect to Dickens writing process than those obvious sources of inspiration the film trots out to display. It is in these moments where “The Man Who Invented Christmas” genuinely hypothesizes over what it must have been like to step inside Dickens’ mind, something no one can be sure of, but that the film is at least is ambitious enough to formulate an opinion on that it succeeds the most.
Everything else here is somewhat muddled in the confines of how the film presents the many sides of Dickens' life and all he was dealing with at this moment in time when we meet him. At any given moment outside Dickens' office it's difficult to get a grasp on the frame of mind of our protagonist. As it is, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” prefaces the audience with a few cards of text prior to the film beginning and then drops us into his writer’s block and personal life where we're meant to piece together the strands of current life events to understand both the character and the source of inspiration for the novel (or novella) in question. As mentioned, those scenes where we see Dickens holed up in his home office working through his creative process are some of the best, but unfortunately, they are too few and far between to really carry the whole of the picture. Instead, we lie witness to Dickens having issues thrown at him from every direction outside of his safe place to the point it's understandable why he can't concentrate on a single idea as well as why he can't seem but to want to escape there day after day. Hell, maybe this is the intent of the script to emphasize Dickens' need to write both for a creative outlet and financial reasons, but it feels as if these elements should be secondary to those of the author working through and coming up with the ideas that would create the Christmas classic this movie is about the creation of. This is no fault of Stevens or the rest of the underserved cast though, as Stevens once again proves why he is one of the more interesting talents working in Hollywood today. Three years ago, when writing about “The Guest” I would have never imagined the same actor playing the killing machine in that movie would, in as much time, be playing Charles Dickens in a movie where he purposefully camps it up in the hopes of capturing the coziness of Christmas in a single facial expression. The rest of the cast is fine if not necessarily notable (it's a shame Pryce is given little to nothing to do) whereas most of the narrative outside Dickens himself is more by the numbers than that of the internal conflicts we're witness to that tend to present themes and ideas to ponder past the inevitable which is the fact A Christmas Carol gets finished in time and is a massive success. Those previously mentioned daddy issues and painful childhood memories that the author was still working through by the time he reached this, his ninth publication are hit repeatedly when once would have more than sufficed. These kinds of obvious markers deliver the movie audiences no doubt expected to receive and are likely more than fine with, but “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is far more enthralling when it dares to step outside these markers and inside the depths of Dickens brain that reveals why his storytelling tends to still resonate today.