Director: Paul Feig
Stars: Henry Golding, Emma Thompson, Boris Isakovic, Lucy Miller, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Yeoh
Duration: 103 mins
KRS Releasing Ltd
Last Christmas the film is inspired by Last Christmas the 1984 Wham! hit holiday song. I would agree with anyone who’d think this is a pretty flimsy premise on which to hinge an entire movie, yet the creative team behind it has created a product that will in all likelihood become a standard during Christmas seasons to come.
Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen herself, Emilia Clarke, is Kate, a young woman at a crossroads in life and too dejected to make any effort at anything. She is an aspiring actress who flunks audition after audition and makes ends meet working as an elf in an elaborate open-all-the-year-round Christmas shop. Kate is also recovering from a serious illness, has fallen out with her family and has brought her friends’ patience with her to breaking point. A chance meeting in the run-up to Christmas with the ridiculously handsome and charming Tom (Henry Golding) is the push she needs to get out of her funk as he slowly but disarmingly chips away at her armour.
What presents itself as a bog-standard romcom set against a luscious Christmassy London is made extra-special by three elements: the winning cast led by the winsome Clarke, the screenplay by the ever-reliable Emma Thomson (who also stars as Kate’s mum) and the assured direction by Paul Feig, he who delivered Bridesmaids, one of the best romcoms in recent years.
Clarke hits all the right notes – a woman in a difficult spot who is as lovable as she is annoying. Abusing of her friends’ generosity, her clumsiness often gets her into trouble, with one particular ‘fried fish’ gag a comical highlight, but underneath the oftentimes quirky and funny character, the vulnerability caused by her illness and the hurt at the falling-out with her mother are evident.
The chemistry Clarke shares with Golding’s Tom is palpable, and he brings a genuine tenderness that is unusual in leading men coupled with an air of mystery that permeates throughout.
An unexpected twist at the end that just adds a touch of poignance to the warmth and fuzziness that envelopes proceedings
The cast includes Yeoh as Santa, Kate’s boss, whose stern demeanour belies her warm heart and clear affection for Kate – despite the problems Kate causes due to her carelessness; and the two share a touching few moments giving Kate a soupcon of the affection she so clearly craves from her mother. Speaking of whom, Kate’s over-protective mother Petra, who cannot understand her daughter’s choices and often thinks back with nostalgia on the family’s time back in the former Yugoslavia before the war forced them to leave the country, is played with humour and heart by Thompson herself.
In her heavily accented Petra, Thompson has created a character who is funny but never a caricature; and she is authentically moving in her portrayal of a woman who deeply loves her daughter.
On the surface the story may be slight, but this is a story about second chances and about seizing the moment, and, yes, about love. Also, being the social activist that she is, the Academy Award-winning Thompson weaves in some social issues – homelessness, migration and, yes, Brexit – without ever getting preachy. Furthermore, she ties it all up with an unexpected twist at the end that just adds a touch of poignance to the warmth and fuzziness that envelopes proceedings.
As for the songs, obviously, the Last Christmas track features heavily, but never too intrusively, alongside other songs from the 1980s pop band and from George Michael’s solo career, which litter the soundtrack, as does some brand-new unreleased material by the late artist, who was involved in the production before his death in 2016.
Director Feig has an easy job of it, with a cast of this calibre and a solid screenplay at his disposal and presents us with a picture-perfect London all dressed for Christmas to really put us in the mood.
Last Christmas will probably not feature in any of the current awards frenzy because it boils down to little more than a superbly made fluffy confection. Yet truth be told, in the tumultuous times we are currently going through, a couple of hours of mindless fluff is just the tonic you need.