Excluding the ones found on streaming platforms like Netflix, holiday-themed romantic comedies made for the big screens are increasingly rare these days. Which is why the arrival of Last Christmas seems like a breath of fresh air.
It has everything the movie needs to become a bona fide hit: two charismatic onscreen pair of Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding of last year’s Crazy Rich Asians fame and director Paul Feig making a comeback to the rom-com territory since 2011’s Bridesmaids. The London setting is both enchanting and magical, thanks to John Schwartzman’s sumptuous cinematography and Gary Freeman’s gorgeous production design. You can see they really put a lot of efforts in making Last Christmas as Christmas-y as possible.
Given the movie’s title is directly inspired by Wham!’s (George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley) 1984 evergreen hit song of the same name, you’ll get to hear most of the duo as well as the late singer’s solo classic songs from “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” to “Freedom! ’90” and “Everything She Wants” over the course of the runtime. Whether or not you are a fan of either of them, the songs sure add a lot of wonderfully nostalgic and feel-good factor to the movie.
Of course, no rom-com is going to work if the chemistry is nowhere to be found. Thankfully, this isn’t the case in Last Christmas as Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding put on their effortless charm to their respective roles. But I personally enjoy Emilia Clarke’s spirited performance the most. She’s clearly the scene-stealer here. The supporting cast is just as fine, particularly Michelle Yeoh and Emma Thompson as Emilia Clarke’s Kate’s boss Santa and Kate’s mother Petra.
But the plot, written by Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings, is both erratic and uneven. The biggest problem? Last Christmas wants to be more than just your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-falls-in-love-with-the-girl rom-com formula. Frankly, there’s nothing wrong with a movie trying to diversify a story beyond its single-minded genre trapping. It’s just too bad the movie chooses to gloss things over. For instance, there’s an added xenophobic theme since the movie takes place during the Brexit era in 2017 and tries to be sympathetic about it. And yet, it’s all told in the utmost superficial manner possible.
Then, there’s the twist. Yes, you read it right: twist. Over the course of its 102-minute running time, we learn about Emilia Clarke’s Kate being such a mess whether she’s working as an assistant in an elf costume at Santa’s (Michelle Yeoh) year-round Christmas shop or suffering from an estranged relationship with her lawyer-sister Marta (Lydia Leonard). She happens to be homeless — though, not technically — as well, where she relies on some of her few friends to crash in their apartments.
One day, she meets a handsome stranger who calls himself Tom (Henry Golding) outside the shop. And as any obligatory rom-com formula would take you, they end up hanging out with each other. But she finds Tom a strange person. He often insists Kate to always “look up” while walking down the streets and he’s pretty difficult to stay in touch since Tom doesn’t carry a cellphone. He also tends to go missing for days, only to reappear all of a sudden at certain moments.
For a while there, it looks as if Paul Feig wants to depict two individuals with radically different personalities: Clarke’s Kate is a cynical girl with an attitude problem and Golding’s Tom happens to be an eccentric and seemingly optimistic type of person. The kind of rom-com with all the love-hate relationship going on and it usually takes a long time before they finally admit to each other. Well, this isn’t really that kind of movie. Which brings us back the twist. You have to see it for yourself. To me, let’s just say the twist feels like it doesn’t really earn its deceptive storytelling method that tries to be clever.
If only the story has more depth into it, Last Christmas would end up with a better-than-expected result. But what we have here instead is a decent effort that remains watchable, thanks to the delightful cast and the movie’s equally wonderful setting.