Last Christmas (2019)
Director: Paul Feig
Screenwriters: Emma Thompson, Greg Wise, Bryony Kimmings
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson, Michelle Yeoh
For the first chunk of Last Christmas, self-proclaimed hot mess Kate (Emilia Clarke) is constantly dragging a big, battered suitcase along behind her. Flitting from the bed of a one night stand to a friend’s spare room and eventually, reluctantly, her family home, she literally carries her baggage around each day. The case ricochets over the London cobbles, following her heeled boots; a hardly subtle metaphor for the unpacked trauma that is weighing her down.
Kate – full name Katerina, a morsel of her heritage that she likes to push aside – spends her days drinking too much, bombing auditions and working in a year-round Christmas store bedecked in green, dressed as a festive elf. One day, she spots the handsome and mysterious Tom (Henry Golding) outside the shop window, stumbling around, looking at the sky. They strike up an altogether unconvincing friendship that turns to lacklustre romance, as he teaches her some life lessons about looking after herself, being kinder to other people, and finding joy in the little things – all to the soundtrack of the greatest hits from Wham! and George Michael.
Last Christmas is directed by master of comedy Paul Feig (Bridesmaids; Spy), and its story devised by all round legend of the form Emma Thompson, but it’s hard to tell from what we see on the screen. Whilst Feig’s flair comes across initially in the snappy pace and brilliantly funny flashbacks, all the nuance of character and hilarious set pieces from Feig’s previous work is missing here. With regards to the script, the dialogue is so laboured and heavy with exposition that it ends up feeling completely contrived and lightyears away from what a real human conversation sounds like.
Clarke and Golding have charm by the bucketload, and whilst it’s never unleashed to anywhere near its full potential, it’s their contributions and the delight in spotting some famous faces in cameo turns that make the runtime just about bearable. Thompson, playing Kate’s mum Petra, is cartoonish, broadly drawn, and the decision for the family to be migrants from The Former Yugoslavia seems pointless except as an opportunity to shoehorn in the odd Brexit reference, as well as other random attempts at wokeness.
The tricky thing about Last Christmas is that the trailer all but spells out the twist in big, twinkly letters – if you haven’t watched the trailer, don’t, because if you have, it’s very difficult to get swept up in the story when you know exactly what’s coming. When the rug-pull is revealed, it’s so sudden and anticlimactic, you’ll feel even more cheated.
With such a skilled and starry cast, and a concept ripe for the dramatic picking, it’s mind-boggling how much Last Christmas is lacking in charisma, comedy and any kind of emotional heft. Even George Michael fans may leave unsatisfied; compared to something like Netflix’s Dumplin’, which perfectly embeds the heart and soul of Dolly Parton into the movie’s core, this only barely feels influenced by the pop icon whose last Christmas was the big day itself, December 25th of 2016.
There are plenty of fairy lights, a small dose of festive cheer and an elf costume almost as iconic as Will Ferrell’s, but Last Christmas is nowhere near the holiday classic it is being marketed as. This is more something you stumble across on ITV2 and keep on in the background while you wrap presents or peel spuds or play Trivial Pursuit with the family. But something to make a trip to the cinema, and spend your hard-earned cash on tickets and popcorn for? Sadly not.
Predictably, Kate manages to stop lugging that baggage around. If only the film she’s in had been able to do the same, we might have had ourselves a new, original festive favourite. Anyone for Scrooged?