Scrooge & Marley, a take on A Christmas Carol through a gay lens, celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year, which feels surprising given how contemporary it feels in our current era of much more frequent, much more well-funded takes from a wider range of perspectives. It didn’t seem to find its audience a decade ago, but maybe it will fare better. It deserves to fare better. It’s a thoughtful spin on the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge, with some fun musical numbers and clever twists to the classic story.
In this telling (directed by Chicago film critics Richard Knight Jr. and Peter Neville), old crotchety Scrooge is known as Ben (David Pevsner). Ben was vested in a number of nightclubs and real estate, but his main domain is a piano bar, where he torments his workers with low wages, crippling demands and a complete lack of respect. It’s one of the best bars in town, if you ignore its ownership. The main characters of Dickens’ novella are all present, including Bob Cratchet (David Moretti), Tiny Tim (Liam Jones) and the various spooks who haunt him. A larger role is given to Scrooge’s late business partner, Marley (Tim Kazurinsky), although one of the film’s flaws is introducing its narrative as a redemption story for the ghost as well as the iconic miser whom he haunts. This dual-track story drops off pretty quickly. For the most part, the story follows the tried-and-true beats.
With some changes, of course. In this telling, Scrooge’s father issues relate to being exiled due to his sexuality. His relationship with Mr. Fezziwig (Bruce Vilanch) is also altered. Classically, the character represents a contrast in business ethics. Whereas Scrooge is a monster of the Industrial Revolution, Fezziwig is usually portrayed as a more open, communal character. The generational contrast is still present but instead pertains to the difference in gay culture pre- and post-AIDS. Fezziwig takes in the runaway Scrooge (and Scrooge’s lost love, here named Bill rather than Belle) to teach him everything he knows about business and the community. Fezziwig is betrayed, of course, but the shifted allegorical nature of their relationship is interesting and mostly well done. The only weakness to this backstory is an oft-referenced but unexplored implication that Scrooge was involved in sex work as part of his relationship with Fezziwig. It’s clearly meant to be an element of the culture that disappeared, but the way it impacts Scrooge’s journey feels strangely muted.
That’s not enough to sink the movie, however. Pevsner relishes the role on both ends of the moral compass, playing cruel and ultimately kind with a lot of charisma. The film moves at a pleasant clip and is, for the most part, very smart about the way it translates this classic story. It’s very low-budget and cheaply produced, but that’s not an inherently negative critique. It feels like a labor of love, a version of a story meant to be told … and told maybe a few years too soon. Low production values aren’t necessarily the warning sign they used to be. I like to think the internet has allowed independent films with an earnest soul to find their audiences, and I hope this 10-year anniversary means Scrooge & Marley is able to find new fans.