Last Christmas Featured

Despite only being a Christmas song in that it uses the word Christmas, “Last Christmas” is a welcome yearly yuletide visitor around the Stevens compound. Does the film of the same name, featuring that track and oodles more Wham! And George Michael song, live up to that kind of warm comfortable feeling?

Last Christmas The Two Again
Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke have a sweet staring contact in a scene from LAST CHRISTMAS. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The Idea Behind LAST CHRISTMAS

Kate (Emilia Clarke) is a mess, a charming mess, but a mess nonetheless. Still not recovered from her near death experience, she seems both unlucky (a bird defecates on her early on) and unwilling to truly engage with the world. She would rather make the same mistakes over and over again with little effort than really try to embrace life in all its ups and downs.

If you miss it, the movie accents this evasiveness in multiple ways. None is more obvious or blaring than her job, working in an all-year Christmas store a la Kimmy Schmidt. Kate is so locked in that she can’t let go of the time of year she nearly died during.

The people around her, especially her mom Petra (Emma Thompson) and her boss “Santa (Michelle Yeoh) notice but can’t seem to pull her out of her malaise so they settle for playful and constant needling.

Then comes Tom (Henry Golding). Tom is your Solid Dependable Dreamboy. Thus, inevitably, he moves her towards appreciating life again, taking risks, and striving to achieve her dreams.

Last Christmas- Petra
Emma Thompson does a bit of day drinking with Emilia Clarke in LAST CHRISTMAS. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Writing LAST CHRISTMAS

The script from Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings, drawing from the story by Thompson and Greg Wise, is a fairly shallow affair. It is playing with some big themes here. Genocide comes up in the first ten minutes, there is Kate’s whole struggle to move beyond nearly dying, questions of immigration and assimilation, and so on. There is a lot of powerful chewy material here. But that’s not what CHRISTMAS is interested in. That’s fine, but maybe don’t start your movie in a country actively engaged in ethnic cleansing then.

Even if we discount the clashing of events and tone, CHRISTMAS is still an undercooked affair. It has a sweetness to it. It ambles along pleasantly enough. However, it definitely ambles. There is little sense of momentum and drive. When the emotional climax arrives, it should hit you like a gut punch. Instead its impact is minimal. It aims for bittersweet tearjerking but lands somewhere around, “oh, ok…that’s gentle.”

Last Christmas- Tom
Henry Golding is one handsome charismatic fella in LAST CHRISTMAS. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Casting the Leads of LAST CHRISTMAS

Regardless of its shortcomings, one thing is undeniable about CHRISTMAS: its stars. Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding are tremendously winning on-screen presences. They have a heaping helping of chemistry in their interactions. In this area of making a romantic comedy come to life, CHRISTMAS gets it exactly right.

I will confess that neither character has much by way of depth. As covered above, this movie is more about the suggestion of pathos than a deep exploration of them. Still, sometimes it is ok just to watch two pretty people enjoy one another.

Last Christmas- Santa
Michelle Yeoh is filled with the holiday spirit throughout LAST CHRISTMAS. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Casting the Rest of the Callsheet

Paul Feig knows how to get strong performances from his supporting players. Actors like Thompson and Yeoh know how to deliver them. So why are both excellent performances reduced to, basically, funny accents and somewhat stilted English? It baffles and disappoints.

Small appearances from the likes of Patti Lupone are undeniably sweet surprises. John-Luke Roberts’ very German St. Nick is good for an occasional snicker although, again, mostly just a funny voice.

Last Christmas: Kate and Petra
Emilia Clark and Emma Thompson get stunned in a scene from LAST CHRISTMAS. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Directing LAST CHRISTMAS

Paul Feig, after last year’s wonderful A SIMPLE FAVOR, is back on comedy grounds here. However, as with FAVOR, this is a different animal than we have seen him wrangle before. This is easily his most gentle film, after his spikiest, and you can sometimes feel him straining against its seams. Sadly, he never really breaks free.

The film, even beyond its incandescent leads, is quite pretty. However, it owes a huge debt of gratitude to Richard Curtis, the writer-director who has invested years of his life and career in creating the modern fairy tale version of London. By the time the film hits its stage show finale, you’d be forgiven wondering if someone accidentally spliced in the kids’ talent show climax from LOVE, ACTUALLY before sending the multiplex the digital file.

It is all very competently done and quite pleasant to look at it. Alas, one can’t help but miss Feig’s usually more Earthy touches amongst all the glitter.

Those George Michael Songs

Look, the new tune does not exactly slap, but it is nice to hear new Michael music three years after his death. It is a good representative of what made Michael such an appealing singer for many, including myself.

Strangely, the movie feels a little too restrained in its use of the artist’s catalog. While it nicely highlights some lesser known tracks, it largely steers clear of his more erotic and longing attuned songs. Given the subject matter on-screen and how much those compositions defined his career, it seems a doubly weird choice.

Still, the thrill of his voice remains. When the soundtrack kicks in, it feels like the movie is at its best, even if that is damning it all with a bit of faint praise.

Last Christmas- Kate as Elf
Emilia Clarke is an elf for the season in LAST CHRISTMAS. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

That’s a Wrap!

I saw this movie a few days before Halloween. I only mention this because, perhaps, one might find it a bit more magical as the Christmas season slowly encircles us. On a day in late October, with no wreath, no holly, and certainly not even a nip of eggnog, perhaps LAST CHRISTMAS was simply screened at the wrong moment.

However, if one needs the full-bore magic of the holiday season to work, it is probably still not much a good movie. Clarke and Golding are good, Michael’s songs remain a joy. Beyond that though, LAST CHRISTMAS just isn’t much of a gift in the old stocking.

Please feel free to join us for a more in-depth spoiler-filled discussion in the Good Spoils take on the film.

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