Last Christmas (2019) Review
A TACKFUL HOLIDAY DRAMEDY
/ NOT A SHARP HOLIDAY ROM-COM
It’s that time of year…and its here. Whether you call the Christmas season or just simply the “holidays” (depending on what religious celebration you celebrate during the month of December), this is the season for the time of gift giving, gathering with loved ones, and joining in on the merriment of celebration “for that time of year” (taking the line from Olaf’s Frozen Adventure). While holiday cheer (and sometimes “craziness”) ensues during this season, the festivities can also be complimented with the time holiday movies, with a wide variety of Christmas classic to go around, including A Christmas Story, it’s a Wonderful Life, The Polar Express, Home Alone, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Love Actually, Miracle on 34th Street, Die Hard (the debate is still on this one if it’s considered a holiday film or not), and many others. Now, Universal Pictures and director Paul Feig present the latest feature to be a part of the Christmas holiday movies with the film Last Christmas. Does this movie find its “holiday spirit” entertainment or is it bland and cold-hearted “Scrooge” of a production?
Kate (Emilia Clarke) is a lost and wayward individual, unable to find a permanent place to stay in London while trying to get away from her former Yugoslavian family, including her mother Adelia (Emma Thompson) and her sister Marta (Lydia Leonard). Having a strong taste for alcohol, finding comfort with random men, and refusing to deal with her past trauma, Kate is kept in a state of denial as she maintains her employment at a Christmas shop, which is run by Santa (Michelle Yeoh). One day, Kate accidentally runs into Tom (Henry Golding), an optimistic and spirted man who takes a liking to the distraught young woman, with the pair hitting it off as they try to navigate the bustling streets of London together. Kate responds to Tom’s kindness and concern, taking his lead as she begins to show interest in St Benedict’s, a church-run homeless shelter as well opening up more into her tumultuous life. As she attempts to get close to her mystery man, Tom pulls away, hesitant to give more of himself to Kate as she falls in love with him.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I think I’ve said this before, but I do love the Christmas holiday season. Yes, I do love the idea of setting up all my Christmas stuff since I was kid (nothing junky or obnoxious tacky to be sure), but I enjoy the spirt of the season, especially the whole “tis the season” saying. Of course, I do like presents (I mean who doesn’t), but spending time with family, gathering for dinner, and just having a wholesome goodness within the celebration and to others around you. To me, that the spirit of Christmas. Thus, being a fan of movies, you know that I have favorite Christmas movies already lined up for the season, including Elf, The Polar Express, The Grinch (Illumination 2018’s iteration), the original cartoon shorts of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Frosty and the Snowman (definitely classics), and several others. As a side-note, I’m not so much keen on those Hallmark Christmas movies, but I might give or two of them a try….one day.
This brings me back to talking about Last Christmas, the latest feature film endeavor to utilize the holiday season spirt inside a framework of a narrative. I did hear about this movie for quite some time, with several “newsfeed” that I frequently check and was definitely curious to see. Of course, I love Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding (Clarke from Game of Thrones and Golding from Crazy Rich Asians…naturally) as well as director Paul Feig being attached to the project as the film’s director. With these three individuals on-board with the movie, I was definitely hyped to see Last Christmas, with the film’s movie trailer getting my attention to see as a sort of holiday “rom-com” endeavor. So, I went to see the movie, hoping to surprise by its breezy lightheartedness and wrapped up in a Christmas romantic comedy presentation. I did see during its opening weekend, but I decided to hold off reviewing until the start of December (you know…for the Christmas holiday season). So, what did I think of it? Well, it’s wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. While the movie doesn’t deliver so much on the rom-com aspect, Last Christmas delivers on being a holiday dramedy that shares the story of healing and trauma in a person’s life. It’s still a delight to watch and heartwarming for sure, but holds imperfections within what could’ve been.
As mentioned above, Last Christmas is directed by Paul Feig, whose previous directorial works include The Heat, Spy, and A Simple Favor. Giving his previous knowledge of comedic feature endeavors and his 2018 deceptively mystery feature (i.e. A Simple Favor), Feig steps into the foray of holiday production, utilizing the Christmas season time period as a backdrop for the film’s setting and plays up that particular spirit in explaining Kate’s story. Of course, this idea has been before (the multitude of a Hallmark TV movie productions), but Feig steers away from the over-the-top cheesiness one might expect from Last Christmas and offers up a surprisingly light yet also deep movie that tackles several common themes of a person’s life, including love, trauma, and healing. It’s definitely a little bit of “new territory” for Feig to navigate through, but mostly succeeds in getting his point across by crafting the feature around Kate’s woes as she goes about her life (in a humdrum way); encountering love, dealing with past experiences, and just trying to find herself. Of course, this also stems from the film’s script, which was penned by Bryony Kimmings and actress Emma Thompson (yeah, I was kind of surprised by that as well) with a story by Thompson and her husband. The feature’s script delves into some heavy material (again, the trauma of healing), but also foreigners in a foreign country, dealing with family, as well discover the power of “moving on” in life. All of this is wrapped in the timeless tradition of a holiday movie, with Christmas season “to be jolly”, which (with Kimmings and Thompson script as well as Feig’s direction) makes Last Christmas offer up something different from the obligatory Hallmark holiday movie. So, while the movie might not find its proper footing with its story (and with viewers), it certainly has its holiday heart in the right place.
In its technical presentation, Last Christmas has sweet charm to it, forgoing the more commonplace idealism of setting the story in the USA and choosing to set the movie’s setting in London, England. Thus, the film’s locations (in the way of how it “looks and feels”) is quite appealing; showcasing the inner-city life (mostly at night) in charming and romantic way that has plenty of character onto itself. Thus, the cinematography work on the film, which was done by John Schwartzman, as well as production designs by Gary Freeman, and I really have to mention the set decorations efforts made by Raffaella Giovannetti, especially all of the interior shots of the wonderfully decorated Christmas shop that Kate works at. Plus, as to be expected, the movie does offer up a fine selection holiday Christmas songs throughout, including music from George Michael (as to be expected) and Wham!. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Theodore Shapiro, delivers smooth (tender and comforting) melodic compositions of something befitting a feature film such as this.
There are few main problems with the movie that it can’t overcome, which the Last Christmas not as stellar as it could’ve been. Perhaps the most obvious one that almost everyone will immediately spot with this movie is in the mislabeling of the feature within the movie’s marketing campaign. What do I mean? Well, what many think Last Christmas is a romantic comedy (with the movie’s trailer painting such a picture), but (unfortunately) the movie is actually a dramedy, a combination genre of drama and comedy. Thus, the romantic ideas of rom-com of which many were expecting from this movie are not there and definitely takes the story of Last Christmas in a different direction. Sure, the Christmas holiday guise is still in the backdrop of the film and certainly does make for a “feel” of a romantic comedy, but neither Feig nor Thompson / Kimmings script does anything more within the realm of the “rom-com”. There are few, but not in the direction I was expecting to see, which might dismay some viewers out there in the likeability of Last Christmas.
Additionally, Feig, who really hasn’t touched upon the dramedy arena within his directorial works, ends up with a few messy areas within the feature, leaving some secondary storyline threads halfway finished and left uncomplete by the time film ends. Also, much like his work on A Simple Favor, Feig tries to employ several quirky humor beats into the movie, but most of them end up backfiring, with some acting a little bit bizarre (i.e. Santa and her strange relationship with a love interest). Plus, within Thompson / Kimmings script, the movie’s narrative could’ve added a few more story beats into the mix to help expand certain character moments. Of course, I do appreciate the somewhat “breezy” feel of Last Christmas (i.e. doesn’t drag as much as what I was expecting), but I felt a bit more of Kate’s life could’ve been elaborated on as well as explaining Tom’s backstory, which is left shrouded in mystery for majority of the film. Plus, without spoiling the movie’s story, the idea of using the famous “Last Christmas” song plays a part in the movie and it somewhat gives away the big twist in the feature. Won’t tell you how, but it becomes pretty obvious (at least to me) by the movie’s halfway point.
What definitely helps the movie overcome some of the criticism is in the feature’s main characters of Kate and Tom, who are played by actress Emilia Clarke and actor Henry Golding respectfully. Clarke, known for her roles in Game of Thrones, Terminator: Genisys, and Me Before You, is a simply a joy to see as Kate, making the character muliti-façade protagonist characters that has plenty of problems within her life and to see her display a wide range of emotions throughout Last Christmas. Sure, it’s a bit of departure from seeing her as the “Mother of Dragons” on Game of Thrones, but it definitely showcases a different side to Clarke’s acting talents and is great to see her in a very complexed character role within Kate. Likewise, Golding, known for his roles in Crazy Rich Asians, A Simple Favor, and Monsoon, perfect fit for the character of Tom, a somewhat tall, dark haired, and mysterious man that enters Kate’s life unexpected. Sure, the movie could’ve added a more backstory to his character, but Golding certainly knows how to play the part that he’s given quite well; adding a very much layer of romantic charm to Tom, which quickly finds Kate smitten with them. Together, both Clarke and Golding get their respective characters down pat and share great on-screen chemistry with each other, which definitely lends credibility to seeing the story follow the courtship of Kate and Tom from onset to conclusion.
Looking beyond the film’s main leads, the film’s large supporting players heavily rest on the shoulder of the feature’s main more seasoned acting veterans, including actresses Emma Thompson and Michelle Yeoh as the characters of Kate’s mom (Petra) and Kate’s boss at the Christmas store simply named “Santa”. Thompson, known for her roles Saving Mr. Banks, Sense and Sensibility, and Late Night, definitely turns a humorous and somewhat layered role within Petra, playing up the duality of being foreigner in a foreign county (and the phobia that goes along with it) as well as trying to be a comfort source for Kate’s haphazard life. It’s definitely a role that Thompson can easily managed and she does beautifully, despite it being a smaller role than what was expected. Similarity, Yeoh, known for her roles in Crazy Rich Asians, Memoirs of a Geisha, makes for a terrific side character in the movie in the role “Santa”; adding plenty of charm, witty banter remarks between her and Clarke’s Kate. Personally, she is probably my favorite character in the entire movie. As a side-note, actor Boris Isakovic (Sumnjiva Iica and Emergency Center) plays Boris, Kate’s dad and he plays the part finely (no complaints from me).
Rounding out the rest of the cast includes actress Lydia Leonard (The Fifth Estate and Gentlemen Jack) as Kate’s sister Martha, actor Peter Mygind (Borgen and Anna Phil) as Santa’s quirky love interest simply named “Boy”, actress Rebecca Root (The Sisters Brothers and Doctors) as Dr. Addis, actress Patti LuiPone (Witness and Heist) as Joyce, actress Ingrid Oliver (Doctor Who and The Hustle) as Police officer Crowley, actress Laura Evelyn (Denial and Wilby Park) as Police officer Churchill, actress Rita Arya (Humans and Sherlock) as Kate’s friend Jenna, actor Ansu Kabia (World on Fire and Miss Scarlet and the Duke) as Jenna’s husband Rufus, and small cameo-like appearances from actors Peter Serafinowicz (The Tick and Couples Retreat) and Rob Delaney (Deadpool 2 and The Hustle) as unnamed theatrical producer and director. Despite their limited screen-time (some only having one or two scenes), these collective supporting players deliver solid smaller performances in the movie (i.e. no harm, no foul).
The holidays are here and romance is in the air as Kate finds an unexpected love interest and coupes with her past (and present) in the movie Last Christmas. Director Paul Feig’s latest film takes a stab at the holiday realm of storytelling; delving into the Christmas season market and examining the life of troubled young woman’s life (and how she recovers from past trauma). While the movie is mislabeled as a dramedy rather than a romantic comedy as well as some quirky / dry humor, lacking substance in a few areas, and a ending that seems too elongated, the films settles into a charming appeal thanks to the heartfelt story (and its thematic message), its holiday nuances, and strong representation from both Clarke and Golding. Personally, I liked it, but it wasn’t what I was hoping offer. The misdirection of the film’s movie trailer is a bit off putting as I was hoping for a rom-com feature, but what’s presented is still a wholesome and heartwarming. Still, some people might not particular care for this movie (can’t overlook its imperfections). Thus, my recommendation for Last Christmas is both a “iffy choice” as well as favorable “rent it”; depending on the viewer’s opinion on the movie and what it has to offer in your expectations. In the end, whether you loved it or hate it, Last Christmas is cute (yet sometimes deep) tactful holiday dramedy and not a sharp holiday romantic comedy.
3.5 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice / Rent It)
Released On: November 8th, 2019
Reviewed On: November 26th, 2019
Last Christmas is 102 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for language and sexual content
I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I DO enjoy many of the movies about this time of year (Home Alone still being a favourite).