’Tis the season for a barrage of holiday movies. Some are good, some are bad, and some are easily forgotten. It’s been a while since a holiday romcom was released in theatersm though, and so Last Christmas works to fill that void. However, it’s admittedly less of a romcom and more of a twisted take on another Christmas classic. The film, written by Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings and directed by Paul Feig, occasionally aims to do too much. Still, its heart is in the right place, even when it hits a big enough speed bump on the way to its ending.
The biggest trick Last Christmas pulls is convincing its audience that it’s a romantic comedy when it’s not, at least not for the majority of it. Katarina (Emilia Clarke), who works in a festive London Christmas shop run by Santa (Michelle Yeoh), becomes smitten with the charming, optimistic, and elusive Tom (Henry Golding). They’re complete opposites: Katarina is cynical and tired of her life, but unable to get past her mental roadblocks. She’s going through the motions, digging herself a deeper hole of self pity and bad choices, like abruptly leaving home to escape her overprotective mother (Emma Thompson). Tom sees life like a glass half full and his appearance in her life may be just what Katarina needed. Just don’t expect Last Christmas to end the way you think it should.
Last Christmas has everything anyone could want from a holiday movie: Christmas magic, humor, a bit of romance, skepticism, and a hearty amount of gratefulness. The film is anchored by the indelible Emilia Clarke, now free from the shackles of Game of Thrones. Clarke is a pro at making Katarina both worthy of sympathy and someone you just want to shake. She’s an incredibly lovable train wreck. Likewise, Henry Golding is perfect as leading man material, even when he gets the short end of the stick in the story. Together, they have wonderful chemistry and Last Christmas doesn’t tap as much into it as it should.
This is primarily because the film resembles more of a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol, minus the fact that Katarina isn’t at all rich. She is, however, the Scrooge in the story with a lesson to learn about the abundance of wealth she has in her life with regards to family, friends, and a second chance at life. Tom is someone she falls for, but he’s more of a vehicle driving Katarina to the points of realization, all while having to maintain his own secret (which isn’t really much of a secret at all). So, while there’s romance, it isn’t allowed to flourish in the traditional sense and that’s where the film gets a bit murky in the way it presents itself.
There’s also something to be said about the pattern of British films this year that have weaved the music of The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and George Michael into their films. Blinded by the Light, the forgettable Yesterday, and now Last Christmas have all employed the use of music as the backbone of their storytelling, often to explain character traits or backstories. In its own way, it’s a crutch, a plot device to bring the lead characters into sharper focus while at once deepening our understanding of them.
Despite some of the film’s hiccups, though, Last Christmas is a very enjoyable holiday film with just the right amount of humor, sap, and the fantastical elements that make Christmas films so damn charming. It makes the attempt to offer a twist to shake things up, but it ends up being the least interesting part of the movie. Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding are great together, though, and are the best reasons to watch the film even while the expectation of more will haunt you afterward. If nothing else, Last Christmas is far and away one of the better holiday films out this year and it’s enough to put a little warmth in your heart.