Paul Feig’s Christmas film stars Emilia Clarke as Kate, a young woman who, having been very ill following an operation, finds her life in a bit of a rut; continually making bad decisions, she is stuck working at a Christmas store all through the year and not having a proper place to stay, having avoided living with her judgemental mother (Emma Thompson) for so long. But help arrives in the form of upbeat stranger Tom (Henry Golding) and as the two of them spend more time together, she begins to make a positive change in her life, helping out those around her and perusing her dream of singing professionally.
To sum it up straight away, I’d say that although its intentions are pure and a few of the central actors put in some really nice performances, Last Christmas doesn’t offer much and it’s just a little too syrupy and sugarsweet for its own good – using plenty of festive imagery and numerous “meet cute” moments and upbeat songs to distract from its rather empty and uninteresting storyline.
Starting off with some positives, Emilia Clarke is probably the best thing about the film because, trying her hand at some lighthearted comedy here, she is very sweet, adorable and fun throughout the feature and although her character is a little jaded and a bit of a mess, she’s never insufferable or annoying and it’s perfectly easy to spend time with her and she really gets stuck into the comedy – often using that unmistakable smile/laugh of hers – and is convincing in the more dramatic scenes. Plus, she sure can sing. The film also makes great use of Emma Thompson and Michelle Yeoh in the supporting roles; co-writer Thompson often steals many scenes that she’s in as the Yugoslavian mother, nabbing some of the best lines with her humorous accent and physicality, and Michelle Yeoh also makes an impact as the initially harsh and uptight taskmaster of a boss, but who later reveals herself to care about Kate, showing genuine concern and affection, and she brings dignity and a certain regal quality to the film. Lastly, though it’s not as impressive a role like he had in Crazy Rich Asians or A Simple Favour, Henry Golding is as sweet and as charming as Tom and just like his co-star, it’s nice to be around him throughout the film and he brings the necessary likeability and warmth to the character.
But despite the committed and warm performances, Last Christmas has problems that will hold it back from being a truly special Christmas film and chief among them is the fact that the story honestly isn’t anything special or original and the sweet, festive atmosphere often comes across as a little too saccharine and cloying. With the story, it seems as though Emma Thompson and Greg Wise have attempted to create a Richard Curtis-y type of film with a main character whose life is a bit of a mess learning the important lesson of “living life to the fullest, stepping away from your phones and loving your neighbour” but the problem is that we’ve surely seen films like this before – ones that finish on a big, smiley event that strangely seems to include EVERY character from the film – and when you take away the Christmasssy veneer, you may realise that there’s very little underneath the surface. The film also has a few side stories that prove to be irrelevant and don’t go anywhere (Santa’s date, the whole inclusion of Brexit) and most noticeably of all, there’s a big twist towards the end but the chances are very high that you’ll be able to work it out very early on because it’s a revelation that’s been used before in several other films. Lastly on the subject, the screenplay can often be a little troublesome because the jokes, while occasionally hitting their marks, aren’t particularly funny and the film also falls prey to including several cringey lines of dialogue that may have you rolling your eyes, just as I did a few times.
And although the film’s heart is in the right place and a sweet, goodhearted atmosphere is important for a festive film like this, the film is mostly all surface and it though it may look the part, the good feeling isn’t genuine and overall, the atmosphere is too sugarsweet and syrupy. It appears as though director Paul Feig thinks he knows what a Christmas film should include and has apparently strived to incorporate all the Christmassy elements that we’ve come to expect from a film like this but unfortunately, he doesn’t truly understand how to make a genuinely good Christmas film, though he may be aware of all the tropes, and at the end of the day, his direction is flawed as he lets the film slide into mawkishness and oversentimentality, he lets plot threads fall by the wayside, and he doesn’t establish enough of a funny or moving atmosphere.
And finally, though the film was marketed as being full of George Michael/Wham! songs, the music doesn’t have any particular relevance and though it’s always nice to hear some of the great man’s tunes, they don’t add much and don’t instil the film with any particular joy or good feeling.
So in short, Last Christmas is the cinematic equivalent of eating a little too much store-bought chocolate at Christmas – it’s nice for a time but eventually, you’ll end up feeling a little sick.