'Last Christmas' gives you its heart, and you probably won't want to throw it away
The demands on Christmas movies are lower than those on a ‘normal’ movie. As long as they provide high doses of festive cheer and a general warm fuzziness they can be forgiven things like obvious plotting and very well-worn jokes. Last Christmas is a very good Christmas movie. Charming, funny, exceedingly jolly. If you prod it at all it falls apart like a snowman at sunrise, but it gives you little reason to want to. It’s too sweet to be cynical about.
From a story by Emma Thompson and her husband Greg Wise, and written by Thompson and Bryony Kimmings, Last Christmas is ‘inspired’ by the songs of George Michael, and more specifically Wham!. The association is pretty loose, to the point of not really having a point. Michael’s voice is all over the soundtrack but only the title song matters.
Kate (Emilia Clarke) is a big George Michael fan, she tells us very early on. She is also very much a glass-is-barely-half-full person. Once a happy-go-lucky sort, something that happened last Christmas has caused her to detach from the world. She works in a Christmas shop, but eye-rolls at the whole operation. She spurns her family, which includes Thompson, as Kate’s mother, doing an ’80s-era Bond villain Russian accent. Kate expects the worst at all times. Then she meets Tom, an incredibly handsome man who is as positive as Kate is negative. The warming of hearts commences.
To talk much about the script at all is to risk giving away the whole plot, because it is a very, very obvious plot. Put that aside, though, and there’s a lot to like. Clarke offers the right balance of snark and vulnerability as Kate, whose personality could be grating, given how often she shoots other people down. Clarke pulls her back from being just mean. Golding isn’t given much light and shade to play with as Tom, a perfect man whose mysterious appearances are not especially mysterious, but he does well with what he’s given, which is mainly well-lit close-ups and an expensive coat.
Directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), this is very much an American’s view of London. Everywhere is pretty, twinkling with lights and salt-of-the-earth eccentrics. The homeless shelter where Kate starts volunteering is populated by jocular old rogues. The shop Kate works in seems to do brilliantly with about four customers per day. But this is all sort of what you want from a Christmas movie. Gritty realism has no place here. London should sparkle. Nowhere should be crowded or noisy. There should be snow. Last Christmas gives you just what you want and expect from a Christmas movie, if nothing more. It’s the kind of gift that you might never look at again after cheerfully unwrapping it, but you probably wouldn’t ask for the receipt.
Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson
Release date: 15 November 2019