The phenomenon of the “Karen” is certainly one of the most notable of the 21st century so far. Used to denote entitled white women, the derogatory moniker has begun to seep its way into movies. Last year, we got the deliciously trashy drama Karen. The preposterously titled Amityville Karen is floating around out there, too. Now comes A Christmas Karen, the perhaps inevitable combination of Karens and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It has everything you'd expect: a terrible haircut, a scene where the main character demands to speak to a manager, and acts of passive-aggressive racism. Although the film is slightly better than you might expect, the central joke has grown old by now.
Michele Simms plays Karen, a bitter, wine-guzzling woman who makes unreasonable demands at restaurants and antagonizes the very nice African-American family living next door. She receives the standard visits from three ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Rolin Alexis) is a gay Black man – Karen's worst nightmare – who takes her back to a formative childhood trauma while simultaneously allowing the movie to engage in a lot of lame double entendres. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Leyla Lawrence) reveals that the neighbor girl she's been mean to is battling leukemia. The Ghost of Christmas Future (Lee Karlinski) is a “dude” who shows her how no one misses her when she's dead because of how poorly she treated people during life.
A Christmas Karen does have a few bright spots. Simms is pretty good in the lead role. She attempts to make the character at least somewhat human, as opposed to just a stereotype-laden caricature. The actress also shows good comic timing. Several decent dumb laughs are scattered throughout the picture. Directors Jon Binkowski and Lisa Enos Smith aim for goofy, lowbrow humor, and there are moments where they pull off a chuckle-worthy gag. I also have to admire the sincere heart of the story. Yes, it's borrowing Dickens' plot, but you can still feel an earnest desire to promote kindness running underneath everything.
When the movie is lacking, however, it's lacking big. Despite those occasional laughs, A Christmas Karen isn't consistently funny. A big reason why is that it's not dark enough. If you're going to spoof the idea of entitled white women, you need to make the humor in the earlier scenes mean. The tone of the comedy should be pitched at a Bad Santa level. Here, we get a Karen who, frankly, is annoying without being downright detestable. All along the way, the filmmakers feel as though they're holding back from the edgier form their concept is begging for.
Added to that is a lack of any real perspective. By now, the phrase has existed for a few years. It's been the subject of countless memes and pop culture references. A Christmas Karen has nothing new to say, so it simply hits the predictable beats on cue, leaving viewers feeling as though they're being told a joke they already know the punchline to. Yes, the movie could have been way worse than it is, but it also could have been a lot better were it not afraid to really go for the jugular.
out of four
A Christmas Karen is unrated, but contains adult language, including some slurs. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.