Cast: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh
Director: Paul Feig
Any movie starring Emilia Clarke, Mother of Dragons herself, and Henry Golding from last year’s Crazy Rich Asians, deserves at least a cursory glance, you’d agree.
Directed by Paul Feig, who helmed Bridesmaids and the female Ghostbusters reboot, Last Christmas might seem like your typical holiday romance from the packaging – all breezy and light-hearted on the outside, barely hiding a schmaltzy, gooey core – the truth is that you may be surprised by its ambitions.
The film is centered on Kate, a mildly damaged young woman in London who tends to alienate friends and disappoint her family with alarming regularity. She dreams of becoming a professional singer, but she’s stuck working at a year-round Christmas shop where she has to dress like an elf. Enter Tom, a charming, mysterious stranger who is as upbeat and selfless as she is cynical and selfish. Their budding romance is set against a gorgeous backdrop of the weeks leading up to Christmas. Frankly it’s one of the unexpected pleasures of this film; the walks down the small, quaint alleys of Central London, the discovery of secret parks somehow hidden from plain sight in the heart of the city.
To be fair, there are other pleasures to be had too. Namely the broad humor provided by Emma Thompson who plays Kate’s hilarious immigrant mother, and Michelle Yeoh as her boss at the Christmas shop who’s at the cusp of a new romance herself. The script (co-written by Thompson) gives both actresses many moments to shine, tapping into their sharp comedic timing. Other scene-stealers include a pair of female cops whose incessant bickering is the source of many laughs.
But the film isn’t merely content providing the warm, fuzzy feels of your standard holiday movie. It wants to say something about the mood of our times, and it’s never shy about revealing its politics. The script makes room to incorporate Brexit into its plot, to reflect on the anti-immigrant sentiment creeping into the UK, and to address the reality of homelessness. There’s also a same-sex relationship treated with the respect it deserves.
At the center of the plot though is the romance between Kate and Tom, and predictably, her thawing from the deep disconnection born out of a health crisis she prefers not to discuss. The big twist in the end is one you might see coming – I did, from a mile away – but it still chokes you up when it arrives. The film’s title, derived from that evergreen George Michael song, is a hint.
Last Christmas may not be remembered as one of the great holiday rom-coms – it’s no Love, Actually – but it’s a perfectly satisfying one-time watch not least because it’s got a winning ensemble of actors who practically light up the screen, and because it delivers a healthy dose of humor and heart that’s hard to resist. I’m going with three out of five.