Last Christmas Review
Christmas is coming, and so are this year's filmic offerings. Of all of the releases leading up to that magical season, Last Christmas has turned out to be the most divisive. Who would have expected a Paul Feig joint, written by queen of the silver screen Emma Thompson, soundtracked by George Michael hits, would amass such vitriol? On the surface at least, it seems like a gold standard seasonal film but a lack of chemistry between the protagonists, an utterly transparent third act plot twist and the seemingly incidental use of George Michael’s music turn Last Christmas from pleasant enough to utterly empty.
Kate (Emilia Clarke) is your regular run of the mill twenty-something, working in retail hell whilst ignoring any notion of responsibility. Kate is introduced shortly after becoming essentially homeless, sleeping on friends’ sofas until she annoys them too much with her careless behaviour and staggeringly irresponsible actions. She’s almost fired from her job at a seasonal Christmas store for leaving the shop unlocked, resulting in a break in (Michelle Yeoh’s character Santa is by far the highlight of the entire film) and she’s unwilling to move back in with her parents due to a crumbling relationship with her mother. All in all, Kate is a mess.
That is, until Tom arrives. A tall, handsome stranger who cycles round London (without a helmet - is he mad?) - naturally Kate can only fight her attraction to him for so long. Tom (Henry Golding, in a role which is guaranteed to place first in a best onscreen boyfriends of the year competition) is a proper nice guy - volunteers at a homeless shelter, supports Kate in her endeavour to learn how to ice skate and generally goes around dispensing wisdom about how to get the most out of life. Tom is practically perfect in every way - aside from not having a mobile phone and mysteriously disappearing for days on end. So what gives? Why does Tom act so suspiciously?
Emilia Clarke is convincing as Kate - she expertly masks Kate’s deep unhappiness with her outlandish behaviour - and her journey to make amends with her friends and family (particularly her sister) feels believable. This is a Paul Feig film, so the comedy part of the rom-com is never far away and Clarke (after having taken on so many very serious roles of late) does really well with the humorous dialogue. Yeoh and Clarke are also excellent as a Christmas comedy duo - Last Christmas might have benefitted even more from being a retail based workplace comedy/drama.
The film meanders along between mildly amusing one-liners and a budding romance between Tom and Kate - funny enough to elicit a chuckle here and there, romantic enough to almost feel the chemistry between the two leads. Kate’s self destructive tendencies begin to lessen the more time she spends with Tom, and she slowly begins a journey towards some real progress. All against a backdrop of snowy central London (very unlikely), the film is, at least for the first half, a twee yet enjoyable experience.
As mentioned earlier, it is not without issues. The treatment of Kate’s mother Petra (Thompson) complete with a generic Eastern-European accent feels borderline problematic, especially since the accent is mostly played for language-based laughs. This is even weirder when you consider that the film also shoe-horns in a Brexit sub-plot - some of which works but most feels heavy handed at best. On the lighter side of where the film falls short - this is a film clearly designed with a non-London audience in mind. London natives will undoubtedly become enraged by the scene where a bus driver waits a whole five minutes for Kate and Tom to finish their conversation before asking if she wants to get on.
However, its main downfall comes towards the end. The film works as a cheesy, Christmas rom-com up until the disastrous third act reveal, a reveal that can be easily spotted from the trailer, as many have pointed out. Taking a sharp turn into a completely different domain, the 'twist' completely undermines the film as it stands, retrospectively filling it with unnecessary plot holes and head scratching confusion. In this case, it’s truly the less said the better other than to say that Last Christmas’ final act seems to be completely allergic to the concepts of subtlety or an intelligence audience who is able to work things out for themselves. Rather, Feig and Thompson take a sledgehammer approach to a film which, up until that point, had been succeeding as a fairly average yet sweet film full of Christmas cheer. It’s annoying, disappointing and will frustrate movie-goers who might have otherwise enjoyed the romp. Not very Christmassy at all.