Review by James Lindorf
Kate (Emilia Clarke) is a mess. Following a miraculous recovery from death’s door, she has spent every day alienating her friends and family. After escaping the former Yugoslavia, Kate dreamed of being a big star under the lights of London’s West End. Now, physically recovered but unable to regain confidence in her singing voice, she works as an elf in Santa’s (Michelle Yeoh) yuletide shop, rushing from one failed audition to the next. Her social life consists of drunken hookups, couch surfing, and pushing each generous friend to the breaking point. One day, through the shop’s window, she notices Tom (Henry Golding) doing the most peculiar thing, looking up. After joining him to disastrous results and declaring that Tom is weird and not her type, Kate dismisses him from her life. During a chance second encounter, Tom convinces Kate to go for a stroll and to experience the city his way. On November 8th, audiences will find out if Kate can give her heart away, or if she will be the same person that she was Last Christmas.
This Christmas will be the 3rd anniversary of 2-time Grammy winner George Michael’s premature passing. In 2013 he gave his blessing to co-writer, co-producer, and co-star Emma Thompson to write a film inspired by his music. Along with her husband Greg Wise and Byrony Kimmings, Emma created Last Christmas, obviously inspired by the 1986 Wham! hit, more surprisingly, George’s 1991 solo song Heal the Pain is also a significant influence. Last Christmas will feature such classic hits as Everything She Wants, Faith, Fastlove Part1, Freedom! ’90 and Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, as well as the previously unreleased This is How (We Want You to Get High), that is played in its nearly 6-minute entirety. A ton of talent joined in to bring the vision of the outstanding soundtrack and writing team to life.
Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) is back for another unorthodox take on the often overly-simplified Rom-Com genre. Last Christmas is his follow up to 2018’s thriller A Simple Favor, where Feig first worked with Henry Golding. Feig also brought along his longtime editor Brent White (Matilda), to give the film the pacing he and his fans have come to expect. Behind the camera is Academy Award-nominated cinematographer John Schwartzman (Seabiscuit), who provides the film with a fun and vibrant look. In front of the camera is the talented and lovable duo of Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding. Clarke may have the most expressive face in Hollywood at the moment, and the film makes excellent use of that. Relative newcomer, Golding has charisma to burn. Tom insists he can’t sing, but if Golding can, he is the perfect choice for updated takes on some of Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly’s most famous roles. The way he dances his way through the city and his penchant for longer coats make for an easy comparison.
Kate is in an awful spot, and you can see that she is struggling with her life and her relationships. She is cynical, rude, and sarcastic but also remorseful and scared. Her lack of understanding of who she is after her illness has left her unable to connect in meaningful ways. Kate is the focal point of the film, appearing in all but a handful of scenes. We get to learn a lot about her, her family, and her employer. Dad (Boris Isakovic) is a former lawyer who now drives a cab and looks for reasons to be out of the house. Mom (Emma Thompson) is an overbearing housewife who forces her will on everyone and spends the rest of the time worrying about Brexit. Her sister (Lydia Leonard) has always felt like second best and currently isn’t speaking to Kate, at least until she is driven crazy by endless phone calls from their mother.
In contrast to how much we know about Kate, Tom is as mysterious as he is optimistic. Everything we learn about him, other than his feelings for Kate, is nebulous. We never see him at work, or with friends and family, and he is usually on his way from one thing to the next. He has a habit of disappearing for days on end and only showing up when Kate is at her lowest. We are forced to rely on his good looks, charm, and whimsical outlook on life to connect with him and understand why Kate is falling for him. While Santa, Kate’s boss, gets her own little love story and shares her entire job history. More time should have been dedicated to his character, which would have strengthened the film as a whole.
Emma Thompson is a great actress; however, her presence in the film feels forced and that she is here because of her role in bringing the movie to fruition. She is the only member of Kate’s family played by an easily recognizable actor, and her Yugoslavian accent is a distraction at best. Tom’s underdevelopment, Thompson’s sometimes distracting presence, and random political statements are dings against the movie. Still, they pale in comparison to one moment that can ultimately decide how you feel about Last Christmas. If you are on board with the characters’ revelation, then the humor and talent of everyone involved will make this a holiday film you can revisit with family every year. If not, it may be a gift you’ll want to give away…the very next day.
Last Christmas is a romantic comedy that is more about loving yourself than someone else, an important message sometimes forgotten by the genre at large. It may not rival George Michael’s greatest hits, but it would land somewhere on the Billboard Top 40.