Anyone who knows me will be able to tell you that when it comes to Christmas movies, I have a very low tolerance threshold. There are only a handful of pictures that I can say I fully love, some critically great like The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Muppet Christmas Carol and Love Actually, and others not so like Jingle All The Way. To be completely honest, I haven’t even seen the likes of Home Alone, Elf and How The Grinch Stole Christmas! With that in mind, feel free to call me Scrooge and take my review of Last Christmas with a pinch of salt.
Directed by Paul Feig and infused with the music of George Michael and Wham!, Last Christmas tells the story of Kate (Emilia Clarke), a hard living, hard partying twenty something whose recent health problems have left her with a fairly reckless attitude towards life and at the centre of worry of her overbearing Yugoslavian mother (Emma Thompson). Kate’s aimless lifestyle starts to change, however, when she meets Tom (Henry Golding), a handsome stranger and positive influence who starts to make an impact on her cynical soul.
Being co-written by the legendary Emma Thompson, I was hoping that Last Christmas would be a fun, fluffy and most importantly funny movie that charmed seasonal audiences. Unfortunately, it turns out to be none of those three. If you have seen the trailer, you don’t have to be a genius to guess what the ‘big twist’ in this movie is, and if you guessed correctly as I did, then watching the narrative unfold is way more cringe than cool. It had brief moments of wry humour, but surprisingly for such a talented writer as Thompson, a lot of the dialogue and references feel painfully outdated. A monologue about how ‘weird’ dating apps are? Hardly revolutionary in 2019. A lot of the script feels slightly out of touch and it’s disappointing. Hearts are certainly in the right place regarding the overall messages and themes of the picture, there is a substantial amount of care towards homelessness and volunteering, with a quick subplot on the tragedy of Brexit to boot, but there is just something about the film overall that feels off. I found myself laughing at it rather than laughing with it, and you never want that to be the case.
There is definitely an attempt in the dialogue and overall tone of the film to evoke past genre classics like Love Actually, but the key thing missing here is that whilst Love Actually is really, really good, Last Christmas is just really, really not.
From a personal standpoint, some of my negative opinion on the film might stem from the fact that I am yet to be completely convinced by Emilia Clarke. I remember enjoying her in Terminator Genisys, but was never fully on board with her Game Of Thrones performance and I feel exactly the same here. There is one note-ness about Kate as a character that starts to test one’s patience, and I’m not sure whether that is the Clarke or the writing. What I couldn’t detach from was the fact that the fast paced, dry observational humour of the dialogue is so quintessentially ‘Emma Thompson’ that most of the time it really feels like Clarke is doing a strange impression of the screenwriter than inhabiting a chapter that the she created. Whether that is down to signature humour being stronger than the narrative or simply a failure on Clarke’s part to fully realise her character, I’ll let each viewer decide for themselves.
As Tom, Henry Golding executes his job as vaguely bland, but handsome and sweet love interest solidly but not extraordinarily. He and Clarke have an enjoyable enough chemistry, it’s just a shame that the story they are playing out for you is this particular one. Emma Thompson proves to be a fun highlight as Petra, Kate’s thick accented, over worrying and over involved mother. Interesting to note that she rewards herself with the majority of funniest and most memorable lines!
There are a number of familiar British based cameos that help to emphasise that attempted tone of Love Actually, including the likes of Sue Perkins, Rebecca Root and even Wham founding member Andrew Ridgeley. They are all fine and nobody does anything ‘wrong’, it’s just, well, nothing hits quite like it is intended to.
Overall, I can’t say that Last Christmas isn’t a disappointment, because it is. I didn’t have high expectations, I went in aiming to have a fun but stupid time, but sadly the fun is mostly missing from proceedings. If I didn’t have a friend in the cinema with me to find the humour in laughing at it rather with it, then it would have felt like a real chore indeed. Bah humbug!