Christmas is inherently trashy. Think of the garish, spiky strands of tinsel and the itchy novelty jumpers; the sloppy, drunken corporate get-togethers and the feigned niceties shared between people who absolutely despise each other. So shouldn’t a good Christmas film be a little trashy, too? That seems to be the logic behind Last Christmas, a star-studded rom-com that plays like an expensive Hallmark film. It’s also meant to be, as the title suggests, inspired by the songs of George Michael. They appear on the soundtrack, but the musician’s presence is barely felt.
You’ll be able to guess the entirety of the film’s plot from the moment Tom (Henry Golding) bounds onto the scene like a Labrador puppy. He’s developed a habit of crossing paths with Kate (Emilia Clarke) at random, only to conveniently slip away the moment she has a chance to ask him what his deal is.
Who is this man? Why is he so carefree? How does he have the time to volunteer at a homeless shelter? Why does he keep dancing around like a little Victorian chimney sweep? All of these questions frustrate Kate as much they intrigue her, as if his perfection were mocking her. She can barely keep her life on track: her dreams of becoming a West End star have gone down the drain, she’s couch surfing because she’s too stubborn to move back home, and has lost all enthusiasm for her job at the Christmas shop in Covent Garden. Her family all rallied around her when she was ill – very ill – last year, but now their patience is starting to wear thin.
That’s until Tom starts her on the path to personal redemption and mental recuperation. A connects to B, everyone has a good time, and all it ends in a big singalong. Last Christmas is not a film for those seeking dramatic intrigue, but simply exists for anyone wanting to marinate in something deeply pleasant for an hour and a half. The script – based on a story by Emma Thompson and her husband Greg Wise, but written by Thompson and Bryony Kimmings – keeps the humour light and fluffy. What feels refreshing, however, is that everyone gets their chance to shine. The film’s director, Paul Feig, lets us see completely new sides to these performers (in much the same way Feig’s last film, A Simple Favour, featured a revelatory turn from Blake Lively).
Clarke has spent years frowning and bellowing about dragons; here we finally get to see the person we’re so used to off-camera. She’s funny, self-effacing, and in possession of a set of eyebrows so expressive, they deserve their own tiny Academy Award. Golding, too, has already proven he’s skilled at listening intently and supportively to a woman’s problems. Here, he gets to do that – and also run around like a complete goofball (there’s a Bond impression in there that will almost certainly have the internet’s rumour mill working overtime for the next few weeks). Even Michelle Yeoh – as Kate’s cutting, but ultimately supportive boss – gets her share of one-liners.
The film’s crowbarred subplot about post-Brexit xenophobia does initially feel like a queasy attempt to stay relevant. Kate and her family came to the UK as refugees from former Yugoslavia. Her mother (Thompson) now cowers in her home, watching news reports of right-wing demonstrations. The idea never really goes anywhere.
But there’s a subplot within a subplot here that feels like it should have been worthy of greater investigation. Kate’s full name is Katarina, but she refuses to be called by it, spending much of the film constantly reasserting her own Britishness. You never really find out why, but by the end, she’s reclaimed her heritage and no longer seems to be hiding from that part of herself.
A better film might have had more to say on the matter, but Last Christmas’ ambitions are much more humble. If it’s made you feel festive, it’s done its job
Paul Feig and Emma Thompson's 'Last Christmas,' starring Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh, works as a character study but the rom-com elements feel arbitrarily inserted and disconnected from the core narrative.
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