I like me a good brainless rom-com every now and again, and with Emma Thompson both writing and co-starring, Last Christmas was poised to be an enjoyable couple of hours. Thompson has written some very good movies in the past and has the ability to raise what could be subpar material to a new level with just her mere presence. However, with Christmas, something got lost in translation.
Katerina (Emilia Clarke), er, um, I mean, Kate, is a near pitying self-absorbed, self-destructive mess. She’s on the outs with her sister, Marta (Lydia Leonard), and refuses to call her mom (Thompson) for help even though she bounces from one poor choice to the next, picking up random men at bars and ruining whatever goodwill she has left with her friends. Even her time at work is spent mostly piddling about in delightful depression as her boss, Santa (Michelle Yeoh), bickers about her being a poor employee.
Enter Tom (Henry Golding), a mysterious young delivery man who suddenly seems to pop into her life at random times and then disappears for days on end. He is by definition a saint — he doesn’t pressure Katerina, uh, I mean Kate, into anything but finding the joy in life, doesn’t carry a cell phone, finds romance in the littlest of things, and volunteers at a local homeless shelter.
Of course, as anyone would guess in a film like this, as the two lovebirds grow ever closer, Katerina — ahhggh… Kate! — begins to understand the joy of helping others and turn her life around for the better. She’s like a much prettier Ebenezer Scrooge who, instead of being an evil curmudgeon, is a perky, likeable lost soul.
For this movie to even remotely work, Clarke and Golding must be a strong pair, and this is where the movie works wonders. The two of them are like marshmallow cream on a chocolate pie; they are so adorable together, they charm their way into your hearts while making you sick to your stomach. Both actors understand the nature of the film they’re in and go all out in creating a loving whimsy that never falters. Even when Kate (yes!) isn’t with Tom, you still feel his presence within her.
It’s everything around them that can’t live up to the duos delightful union. So much of the script (co-written with Thompson by Bryony Kimmings) is so convoluted and directed by Paul Feig with such silliness that it takes away from the heart of the story. Outside of Kate and Tom’s relationship, there are three other relationships in varying degrees of status that the film tries to intertwine within but feel utterly out of place.
First up is the relationship between Kate’s mom and dad (Boris Isakovic), a long-in-the-tooth marriage that is on the verge of divorce throughout the film. The two remain together because… they’re married, and that’s what married people do, I guess. Even Kate asks why they haven’t divorced yet with no clear answer given. There’s no point to this dichotomy, though, as their relationship isn’t given enough time to grow in order for us to understand or care about the dynamics.
It’s still more than Marta’s relationship, which is nurtured about as much as a weed on the outskirts of a lawn. It’s thrown into the film like an afterthought for no other reason than to appease the LGBTQ community. Gotta have a gay couple in there somewhere, right?
Then there’s Santa’s very strange and odd courtship with a man that literally comes out of nowhere. Their first encounter is so extremely strange, awkward, and over the top, it becomes a tonal mismatch with everything else that’s going on. At first, I expected the whole thing to be some sort of fever dream; then it just kept going and going, and it’s never quite understood why. What does this (and by extension, all of the other relationships) have to do with the core message of the film that Kate and Tom’s relationship doesn’t cover?
Outside of the various relationships vying for attention, Thompson and Feig make some very odd chocies that distract from the film. Why is it exactly that Kate and her family are refugees from Yugoslavia? There isn’t one except for adding some unnecessary political undertones that, like the secondary relationships, feel incredibly out-of-place. This decision also hurts Thompson’s performance, as she tries very hard to draw laughs out of a silly accent than just being her extraordinary British self.
If that weren’t enough, we’re provided a third act that is so predictable, if you don’t know the “twist” by the halfway point in the film, you aren’t paying attention. There is one scene in particular that gives everything away an hour before the reveal finally arrives.
Last Christmas has a high pedigree in front of and behind the cameras, so you would expect some sort of effort in creating something special for the holidays. However, although Clarke and Golding are charming beauties who keep your attention and do everything they can to win you over, the film ultimately fails to live up to anything more than a glorified Hallmark outing.
My Grade: B
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