Last Christmas has all the trimmings and trappings for a winning holiday film, but it feels a little too carefully manufactured to really allow for genuine emotions and appreciation.
As a light spoiler to temper expectations, the film is not the traditional rom com and is more of a self-improvement Christmas film with some romantic undertones.
The film is a blend of It’s a Wonderful Life with a heavy dose of [redacted for spoiler’s sake]. That spoiler is pretty significant, but astute viewers will likely pick up on it. That’s when screenwriters Bryony Kimmings and Emma Thompson (yes, that Emma Thompson) get real tricky in skirting the rules of common sense to fit in the confides of their script. It’s one of those situations where there were better ways to reach the same destination and their choice needlessly complicates things for the sake of a heartwarming surprise.
Kate’s (Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones) life is in a tailspin. Her angelic voice that once made her mother (Thompson, Love Actually) cry is now not even strong enough to nail her a role in simple bottom rung auditions. She crashes on her friends’ couches before her careless and selfish attitude quickly gets her kicked out leaving her with few remaining options besides returning to her parents.
Director Paul Feige (Bridesmaids) devotes too much time showing how much of a screw up Kate is to explain why anyone would want this walking trainwreck around. As the film’s focus, we’re supposed to be invested in her, but there doesn’t seem to be much redeeming value to her.
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Good thing she’s got a job as an elf at a Christmas store run by the harsh, but fair Santa (Michelle Yeoh, Crazy Rich Asians). Kate soon becomes enamored by the charming Tom (Henry Golding, Crazy Rich Asians), who has an inexplainable zest for life and soon helps Kate take a different approach. And who knows? Maybe Kate will realize she could start taking some accountability for everything going wrong in her world and start to make a change that helps others as well as herself…just in time for the Christmas season.
Feige never manages to make Kate’s journey satisfying or challenging. It feels more like he’s checking off genre cliches and speeding to the next one. Scenes lack the proper weight and emotion as a result so moments never get a chance to set in.
Easily the film’s biggest offense is the insistence of throwing in every song in Michael’s catalogue regardless of the fit. George Michael was an amazing singer/songwriter and I say this as a major fan who knows Last Christmas was a Wham! song but his library truly has one and only one song that works for a Christmas movie. And it’s not One More Try.
If nothing else, Clarke proves she should be heavily courted for a slew of rom coms and Christmas films for the next decade. She’s charming, likable and has the presence of a headliner born to conquer this genre as easily as Daenerys. Not to mention she can actually sing, which is a rare bonus. Golding is a star. This was a nice follow-up to his breakout role, but he’s an actor who’s suave and cool enough to be the next Hugh Grant for many decades to come. Despite the carefully orchestrated cutesy moments, Clarke and Golding manage to carve out some heartfelt scenes.
Thompson didn’t give herself a glamorous role, but she’s so talented she still stands out. I did appreciate the impressive efforts to be diverse from the cast of various backgrounds to LGTB representation. In a lot of cases these roles would have been filled by white actors without a second thought, but it was nice to see the obvious efforts to be more inclusive.
Last Christmas has the ingredients to be a holiday classic, but it feels half baked with cliches and an illogical twist that frustrates more than delights.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures