Vanessa Williams had a successful run as bitch du jour in TV’s Ugly Betty and earned a few Emmy nods in the process, but she doesn’t quite convince as the eponymous diva in this average Christmas classic remake from VH1. When it comes to the real prima donnas of pop and R&B that her character Ebony Scrooge is trying to lambaste, Williams is too, well, nice.
Still, the movie gets some mileage by finding its niche in the expansive Christmas Carol market. Dickens’s yuletide grinch is transformed into a member of an 80s R&B trio, Desire, but after Ebony goes Beyoncé on her groupmates, she grows increasingly isolated even as her popularity rockets. She mistreats all the people who contribute to her success, including her millions of fans. Also while she’s living it up at the Ritz, her band and backup singers are holed up at a Motel 6 and calling in pizza. Her manager and former boyfriend Bob (Brian McNamara) takes the most abuse, however, and his marriage feels the strain of his puzzling loyalty to Ebony.
A Diva’s Christmas Carol mostly sticks to its source and takes advantage of a few industry cameos. Rozonda Thomas, aka Chilli of TLC, makes a somewhat stiff appearance as Marli, another member of Desire whose death drives the remaining members of Desire further apart. Meanwhile, the Ghost of Christmas Present is a loungy John Taylor of Duran Duran fame. The most interesting cameo, and I hesitate to say also the most effective, however, is VHI’s ubiquitous Behind the Music program. The special stands in as the Ghost of Christmas Future, and it’s this pathetic retrospective that really shocks Ebony into changing her ways. After all, who wants that sort of requiem?
Williams is best when she’s not in beast mode. The movie depends too much on the humor of her acting like a diva – batting away the sunlight, demanding French toast during a video shoot in France – that when she steps away from the cartoonish caricature, Ebony gets a chance to become a person with a chance at redemption. Williams gives her character some nuance and has a few touching scenes with McNamara and Amanda Brugel, who plays her neglected niece. Besides her singing (she offers two new songs), which I will always take, those are the highlights of this adaptation.
“Heart of Christmas” and “Sleigh Ride”by Vanessa Williams:
“Heartquake” by Vanessa Williams featuring Chilli
Prod: Claudio Castravelli
Dir: Richard Schenkman
Writer: Richard Schenkman
Cast: Vanessa Williams, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Brian McNamara, Kathy Griffin, John Taylor, Stephanie Biddle, Amanda Brugel, Richard Jutras, Linda Goodwin, Michelle Lipper, Amy Sloan, Christian Paul
Time: 88 min
Country: United States