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Last Christmas Movie Review

Last Christmas (2019) movie poster Last Christmas

Theatrical Release: November 8, 2019 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Paul Feig / Writers: Emma Thompson (story & screenplay), Bryony Cummings (screenplay), Greg Wise (story), George Michael (song)

Cast: Emilia Clarke (Kate), Henry Golding (Tom), Michelle Yeoh (Santa), Peter Mygind (The Dane aka "Boy"), Emma Thompson (Petra), Boris Isakovic (Ivan), Ritu Arya (Jenna), Ansu Kabia (Rufus), Maxim Baldry (Ed), David Hargreaves (Arthur), Calvin Demba (Nathan), Ben Owen-Jones (Danny), Joe Blakemore (Army "Tom"), Patti Lupone (Joyce), Laura Evelyn (Police Woman Churchill), Ingrid Oliver (Police Woman Crowley), Rob Delaney (Theater Director), Peter Serafinowicz (Theater Producer), Sara Powell (Casting Director), Madison Ingoldsby (Young Kate)

 

It is not November without a Christmas movie arriving in theaters sooner than it should. This year's big addition to the long tradition is Last Christmas,
a film that credits the oft-heard eponymous 1980s song by Wham! with its inspiration, although that's a bit of stretch.

This romantic comedy opens in 1999 Yugoslavia , where a choirgirl named Katarina is wowing a church with her English language George Michael song vocals. Jumping ahead to 2017, when the rest of the film is set, the adult Kate (Emilia Clarke, "Game of Thrones") is struggling as a London Christmas shop worker running out of friends with couches on which she can crash.

One day at work, dating app-fatigued, musical arts-aspiring Kate encounters a playful, charming bicycle courier named Tom (Crazy Rich Asians' Henry Golding). She also gets pooed upon by a bird, which he insists is good luck. Kate and Tom continue to run into each other. He catches her after she blows her latest stage audition while still wearing her elf work uniform. The two share some exciting and unusual nighttime adventures around London, as you'd expect a romantic comedy couple to.

Holiday shop employee Kate (Emilia Clarke) shares a romantic first ice skate with the charming Tom (Henry Golding) in "Last Christmas."

But are they a couple? Tom drifts in and out of Kate's life, boasting that his cell phone is in a cupboard and he is no longer a slave to it. We the viewers recognize something is off about Tom. He claims to volunteer at a homeless shelter, but might he be homeless himself? The mystery is not cleared up even after Kate starts pitching in at and busking outside the same shelter.

A couple of subplots garner some attention. Kate's boss "Santa" (Michelle Yeoh) gets weak in the knees over an odd Danish man (Peter Mygind) who browses her shop. Also, Kate moves back in with her parents (Emma Thompson and Boris Isakovic), who hold onto the values of the former Yugoslavia, which are played for mild conflict and comedy. There's also a lesbian sister (Lydia Leonard) who has a falling out with Kate.

You will figure out Last Christmas's big twist well before it arrives. Maybe not every aspect of it, but enough that your jaw won't drop to the floor like it did when Bruce Willis' wedding ring fell off. That should cushion the blow of not getting your usual, tidy, happy romcom ending. The twist is far from unprecedented in the world of Christmas movies, but most of the other movies that have gone there haven't presented it as a twist. Honestly, that isn't the best idea in the screenplay by Thompson (who shares story credit with her husband Greg Wise) and Bryony Kimmings. I'm at a loss to think of any truly good ideas in the screenplay, which sets the proceedings in 2017 for some Brexit commentary and a scene of anti-immigrant sentiment.

Emma Thompson wrote "Last Christmas" and co-stars as Kate's Yugoslavian mother Petra.

But holiday romcoms generally aren't something you enjoy for their fantastic writing. Last Christmas wants to be funny and heartwarming and it makes efforts in both directions with modest success. The production values certainly elevate this above kindred Hallmark and Lifetime original movies.
Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy, 2016's Ghostbusters, A Simple Favor) does not seem ready to return to television and there's enough here that's passable both visually and emotionally that television shouldn't hold its breath.

Thompson saves some of the biggest laughs for herself, with her goofy accent and unsettling lullabyes. Clarke seems comfortable returning to romance, the genre where she landed her biggest film hit (Me Before You), after being in two underperforming brand-driven tentpoles. And Golding seems prepared to stick around, which is significant in terms of the historic lack of Asian leading men who aren't Jackie Chan. Golding's part is a tricky one on which the more questionable facets of the movie pivot, but he does what he can to salvage his character's appeal.

Overall, Last Christmas is definitely a notch above the really bad Christmas movies but still far from joining Elf as a modern one that enters the average family's seasonal rotation. A more obvious and withstandable comparison is Love Actually, but this is like taking just one of the many threads of that loved/hated Richard Curtis ensemble piece and seeing it through.

George Michael fans should appreciate that the late Wham! singer gets much love here, not only in the titular song that is heard in various incarnations but in other soundtrack selections, for Kate is an ardent admirer (and Michael was involved in the development of the film).

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Henry Golding: Crazy Rich Asians | Emma Thompson: Late Night
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Reviewed November 8, 2019.



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