Queen Latifah has never been involved in a film that takes advantage of her unusual charisma. Audiences relate to and pull for her even in the most ridiculous film — like Taxi. Not surprisingly, the first film to keep Latifah at the forefront, Last Holiday, proved one of her most engaging and crowd-pleasing effort yet.
A remake of a 1950 film starring Alec Guinness, Latifah plays Georgia Byrd. Georgia is quiet and unassuming, but lights up when she gets a chance to whip up a new meal like her cooking idol Emeril Lagasse for her teenage neighbor or patrons who visit her housewares section at a major department store.
The job also has the benefit of serious eye candy in the form of co-worker, Shawn (LL Cool J), but Georgia’s too bashful to take note of his interest and advances.
A freak work accident reveals Georgia has a rare disease and just weeks to live. With no time to waste, Georgia decides she’s lived her life on the sidelines too long and quits her job, cashes in her savings and takes a dream vacation to the luxurious Grandhotel Pupp resort in the spa town of Karlovy Vary.
With filming locations including Austria and the Czech Republic, Holiday packs the visual “wow factor” with breathtaking luxury backdrops.
Georgia’s free-spending ways quickly grab the attention of the resort’s other high-profile guests, including business mogul Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton); his aide, Ms Burns (Alicia Witt); Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito) and Congressman Stewart (Michael Nouri). With no need for a filter, Georgia freely shares her opinion earning the admiration of Kragen’s friends who want to spend more time with the life of the party.
That attitude soon is shared with the resort staff, in particular, the acclaimed Chef Didier (Gerard Depardieu) who is thrilled to have a fellow chef in attendance. The role proves an ideal fit for the likeable Latifah whose vivaciousness is on full display.
Hutton gives Kragen more depth than the standard antagonist killjoy so the film doesn’t get bogged down with him trying to uncover Georgia’s secret.
Director Wayne Wang keeps the mood light for the most part allowing the audience to be just as impressed with Georgia’s new surroundings and adventures.
Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman’s script isn’t groundbreaking and a few parts like the cliché church singing number and the snowboarding scene are a bit silly, but those moments are thankfully the exception to an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Last Holiday might not be in the first tier of holiday classics, but its seize the day theme and winning cast led by its captivating star make this one you’ll want to keep in your Christmas viewing rotation.
Rating: 7 out of 10