I know a lot of people who prefer the classic holiday film A Christmas Carol over the 1988 modernization of the Charles Dickens’ story, but I have to say that I rather enjoy Scrooged. Bill Murray is perfectly cast as a cynical, selfish TV executive named Frank Cross (aka Ebenezer Scrooge.) He’s cut himself off from everybody; he delights in making his co-workers feel humiliated and small and he’s a lonely man in a foul mood as the Christmas season approaches.
In Scrooged, Murray is darker and more sinister than we’re used to seeing him. His character is miserable and Murray does a very believable job of portraying the miserly and mean-spirited character without his usual self-mocking humour. It’s like black Christmas in Cross’ world complete with making his staff work on Christmas Eve, pre-holiday staff firings, and giving his only brother a towel for Christmas.
As the familiar story goes, Cross is visited by three ghosts (past, present and future) to help him discover the true meaning of Christmas. Cross is capitalism personified and the three ghosts will show how his current path ruled by selfishness and cruelty, if he continues upon it, will only bring about more harm than good.
My favourite of the three ghosts is the Ghost of Christmas Present played by Carol Kane. Kane is funny and memorable here as she is in virtually every role she plays (consider her small part in The Princess Bride and her role in Annie Hall.) She looks like a fairy, all adorned in pink and sparkles, yet she’s anything but meek and delicate. She clobbers Cross with a toaster, punches him in the face and kicks him in the balls. It’s a funny, lighthearted bit of slapstick comedy amidst the darker tone of the film.
What this visit also shows is that Cross’ family, though often criticized and ridiculed by Cross, feels true love and affection for him despite his heartlessness and helps Cross realize the kindness and goodness that others see in him beneath his ruthless and capitalistic nature. Eventually, Cross experiences an epiphany and undergoes a complete character transformation. He realizes that it’s not about materialism, but rather about expressing to those closest to you how important and appreciated they are. Murray does a great job of portraying this realization at the end of the film before a studio full of the people he’s wronged and before a live television audience. It’s classic Murray giving a classic speech reminiscent of his other great movie moments like Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.