Original by Balladeer’s Blog
Balladeer’s Blog’s Tenth Annual Christmas Carol-A-Thon continues with this brand-new adaptation of the Dickens tale.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2019) – Directed and co-written by Steven Salgado, this adaptation of the 1843 novel sets the story in present-day Miami. Though some may try to pigeon-hole this indy film as “a Hispanic-American Christmas Carol” that would not be quite accurate.
Yes, the movie gives us Roberto instead of Bob Cratchit and Scrooge & Hernandez instead of Scrooge & Marley (Marley is Hernandez’s FIRST name) as well as a nearly all-Hispanic cast, but viewers are not hit over the head with it. There is no attempt to drag present-day politics into the story and ethnicity is not used as a gimmick. It is not even commented upon that the characters are all Hispanic-American, a refreshing change in a 2019 film.
This movie looks absolutely gorgeous. There are probably Miami Tourism videos that don’t make the city look this sunny and appealing. I’m not exaggerating. The cinematography in this flick makes everything look good enough to eat.
Kate Katzman portrays Ellen Scrooge, CEO of Scrooge & Hernandez Pharmaceuticals. Marley Hernandez died just one year earlier instead of the usual seven years. The astonishing youth of nearly all the cast members seems to be the reason for this. Ellen looks like she would have still been in High School seven years earlier, not already a partner in Scrooge & Hernandez.
Katzman, sad to say, turns in one of the the worst performances in the movie and was clearly cast in the lead because of her blonde bombshell looks and breast implants. (Boobaneezer Scrooge?) She comes across like a petulant little girl when she’s trying to be the cold, money-grubbing and amoral Scrooge of the story’s beginning.
Later, when Kate as Ellen Scrooge is supposed to be happy and warm she wears an awkward smile that is so comically forced she seems to feel genuine distaste toward the other characters instead of fondness.
As mentioned above, the Bob Cratchit stand-in is “Roberto” (Reinaldo Gonzalez), the oldest cast member by several decades. That’s not a cruel insult, it’s just that the striking youth of all the other performers makes him stand out like an octogenarian in a world of twenty-somethings. Tiny Tim is his GRANDSON instead of his son.
Roberto is just shoehorned in as the Cratchit equivalent. He has very little screen time and virtually no impact on the story. Instead the movie gives us Santiago (Alex Jerome Garcia), another of Scrooge’s abused yet loyal employees. We spend a LOT more time with Santiago and his coworker Gabe (Peter Lu Marti).
It soon becomes apparent that Santiago is in love with Ellen Scrooge and sees the warm and caring person who may be lurking beneath her surface iciness and greed. Obviously he’ll be a replacement for Scrooge’s lost love from the past.
That being said, I wish the filmmakers had just jumped in with both feet and instead made Santiago the Bob Cratchit figure. It would have saved the time wasted on redundant scenes of Scrooge’s harshness toward her employees. Tiny Tim could have been his son instead of grandson AND it might have made an interesting twist to have the Cratchit figure be a single dad who’s romantically interested in his crusty boss.
Instead of a Nephew Fred this Scrooge has a younger sister Jennifer (Eliana Ghen), again, presumably because of how young Ellen is. Jennifer pops up on Scrooge’s smart phone to invite her to Christmas Dinner but is, of course, rebuffed.
Early scenes also establish that Ellen, like her late partner Marley, has been overcharging for medicine and taking helpful drugs off the market once the profit margin sinks below a certain level.
On to the spirits:
MARLEY’S GHOST (Rafael Gerardo Rey) – This ghost appears to Ellen Scrooge as she’s jogging along some dazzling nighttime Miami scenery. He is in chains but like everybody except Roberto is very young. He looks like a soap opera hunk. Rey is the only actor who does a worse job than star Katzman.
Marley’s Ghost provides his usual warning about Scrooge facing the same damnation he endures and about the visits from three spirits. The dialogue here is a step up from the previous scenes and that helps. An attempted variation on the bit where Marley shows Scrooge the host of wandering spirits doesn’t quite work.
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST (Moises Contreras) – This ghost appears to Scrooge in the form of a homeless beggar. He transports her to scenes from her past via a car. We see that Ellen’s mother died giving birth to her younger sister Jennifer, and Ellen has always blamed her for their mother’s death. These scenes are actually fairly moving, or maybe I’m just a sentimental dork. Sadly, we don’t get a Fezziwig equivalent.
Moving along to the adult Ellen, we see that Marley Hernandez helped cultivate all her ugliest instincts and reinforced her every cold-hearted quality in the name of money. Ellen’s pursuit of wealth causes her to lose her romantic partner of the time, a stiff who proves that even a male version of Scrooge’s lost love Belle can slow things to a crawl.
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT (D.L. Lewis) – This ghost is dressed as stylishly as a GQ model but I have to ask: Would it have killed them to have him surrounded by Christmas Plenty as a nod to the source material?
At any rate, this spirit – who teleports our main character to different locations through magical snaps of his fingers – shows Ellen that Roberto’s grandson Tim is dying and crippled and that a medicine she took off the market as unprofitable could save his life and ability to walk. Next we waste time with Santiago and Gabe as Ellen is shown that Santiago is in love with her. From there it’s a quick visit to the home of Jennifer and her husband so that Scrooge can see how disappointed her sister is that she never accepts her Christmas invitation.
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS YET TO COME (No one credited) – In a nicely disturbing touch, this silent spirit manifests as a masked intruder who seizes Ellen Scrooge and roughly drags her along to show her the future.
This adaptation of the Carol clearly states it is the following Christmas being shown to our protagonist. The novel used strong hints that it was just one year in the future but some adaptations make it seem further off.
Roberto is seen mourning the late Tiny Tim and is so upset that he puts a pistol to his temple and kills himself. That escalated quickly. (Had to be said.) Ellen is also shown that Santiago is the only person who mourns her passing.
MORNING AFTER CONVERSION – Scrooge is returned to her bed and looks at her smart phone to make sure it’s Christmas Day and that she hasn’t missed it. NOTE: I would have made it so that Ellen’s earlier uses of her smart phone had her interact with a Siri-type computerized voice, so that when she finds herself in her bed she could ask “Siri (or a generic substitute), what day is it?” Yes, I’m THAT desperate for some crumbs from the source material.
Anyway, Ellen embraces her second chance and visits her sister Jennifer for Christmas Dinner. We get a scene that heart-warmingly parallels a nice bit from the Christmas Past vision of her family at the holidays. It’s a visual touch so you need to see it to appreciate it.
This film’s equivalent of the Charity Collectors at the beginning was a woman (Chloe Malaise) dressed as a Christmas Elf selling candy canes for charity. Ellen snubs her in that early scene but encountering her a second time she gives her literally thousands of dollars in exchange for her candy canes.
The next day Scrooge makes amends with her employees, drops a hint to Santiago that she’d like for him to ask her out and as for Roberto – who is reduced to a virtual afterthought here – she punks him like in the novel. She also revives the medication Tim needs to survive and regain the use of his legs.
This version of A Christmas Carol is listed as a comedy, but don’t expect laughs. It’s more light-hearted than actually funny. And though the earliest portions are fairly lame the strength of the story raises this production to an acceptable level by the very end.