Director: Paul Feig
Writer: Bryony Kimmings, Emma Thompson
Cast: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson, Michelle Yeoh
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Rated PG-13| Minutes: 103
Release Date: November 8, 2019
George Michael‘s “Last Christmas” is an essential track for any Christmas playlist. And though “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away / This year, to save me from tears, I’ll give it to someone special,” is a bittersweet lyric, it does play a huge role in Paul Feig‘s holiday romantic comedy Last Christmas, starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding.
The film is breezy, tender, warm, and sweet at best, though it is a bit weighed down by its predictability. Still, looking past its flaws and embracing the cheerful hope it joyfully expresses, Last Christmas can go from essential track on any Christmas playlist to essential watching during the holiday season. Check out my review below.
Last Christmas centers on Kate (Clarke) a young woman who is struggling to escape her own self-destructive behavior, which includes heavy amounts of drinking, pushing her friends away, and the inability to accept the truth of her situation. Stuck working as an elf at a year-round Christmas store, Kate’s unlucky streak only continues her downward spiral. However, from seemingly out of nowhere, a very handsome Tom (Golding) not only sweeps her off her feet but also guides her down the path to sobriety and towards a realization of her talents.
Kate is a relentless cynic who is clearly ungrateful to any generous host that is willing to give her a room to stay in. She is also selfish and bitter, and constantly makes excuses for any failures. But it’s not like she doesn’t have support. There is her boss (Michelle Yeoh), who she dubs “Santa” because they both work at the year-round Christmas shop; and there’s her mother (Emma Thompson), who escaped from former Yugoslavia during the war. No one can seem to reach out to Kate to get her out of her downward spiral. And her love of singing allows her to make contemptuous and pessimistic jokes about her life ending at a very early age like Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse.
Then Tom appears. Like a guardian angel who is trying to receive his wings, he uses his hilariously peculiar behavior to help Kate be a little bit more hopeful and optimistic, and often times encourages her to “look up” because everyone is so busy looking at their phones and being depressed at what they see. Tom’s quirky humor and upbeat attitude helps create something that is bright and fun. And his effect on Kate shows that people can change. All they need is some help and some empathy. And really, isn’t that what Christmas about?
However, Tom is a little bit unreliable. While he is a good influence on her life, he is also unreachable and never around when you need him. According to him, he left his phone in the kitchen cabinet and is often on his bike to make deliveries. At some point in time, he suggests to Kate that she not be dependent on him. Of course, Kate rebuffs this accusation, but in reality, she has been making better choices ever since he came into her life. It’s hard for her to be vulnerable, especially since she is constantly making these bad decisions and won’t admit that she has a problem.
The film doesn’t hide the fact that it will be a holiday rom-com that utilizes a number of George Michael’s greatest hits, along with a few unreleased songs. Of course, all of these songs are simply setting up moments to either elicit an emotional reaction or just get you to hum along as Kate and Tom explore Christmastime in London. But as Last Christmas moves along, one has to wonder where all of this is going, and how this will all end for Kate and Tom.
Unfortunately, the film is pretty predictable, and it will be hard to get out of that mindset given how some of these characters interact with each other. It even gets to the point where you just want the reveal to happen, and it may take too long getting there. But maybe it’s that time of the year when all that Christmas cheer can make people feel just a little bit more hopeful than they were before during these dark times.
While you can’t help but like these characters, Last Christmas feels a bit tonally off-balanced because a lot of the jokes never quite land the way they are supposed to. It’s even harder to tell whether or not there is a joke because the film spends a lot of its time seeing how this relentlessly cynical elf is becoming more hopeful and optimistic.
But Golding is so charming it is difficult to resent the film for its flaws. And the change that Kate will obviously go through, though formulaic, reminds us what a little hope can do. That change in her shows really shows when a scene of xenophobia that stems from the current Brexit situation is squashed by Kate who offers some victims a supportive shoulder to lean on. However, adding Brexit only takes audiences out of the film because it really has no place in it.
It’s not so much that Last Christmas doesn’t do anything to break itself out of the mold, but it isn’t doing anything to be special either. Sure, using some of George Michael’s greatest hits, along with some of his unreleased tracks, can help prevent things from being boring. Clarke and Golding’s charm keeps things light and fun. And the overall cheeriness can keep things upbeat in these depressing times. But the film feels too generic and relies on old and familiar tropes to stand out.
While there are some bright spots, Last Christmas is more like a gift that you can either keep or just repackage and give to someone else.