2 stars (out of 4)
What a sad, sad day in rom-com land. Last Christmas, a Yuletide-themed movie starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding — only two of our favorite, most appealing stars — is a big, fat lump of coal. An aimless, overstuffed mess with glaring identity issues, it will yield little joy during this festive season. This feedback isn’t coming from a cinematic Grinch. Seeing this disappointment of a movie will only make you rue that you didn’t pass the time re-watching Love, Actually.
And, mind you, the premise is gift-wrapped for success. In London, cynical, lovelorn Kate (Clarke) has the misfortune of dressing up as an elf and working full-time in a Christmas shop. Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians) is her demanding boss. Then, one day on the job, she looks out the window and sees handsome Tom (Golding) quizzically looking up at the sky. Their official Meet cute involves bird poop. She will fall for him and he will teach her how to open her heart to new experiences! Great! Bring it! Hello, this is why the Hallmark Movie Channel airs Christmas movies in July. We live for candy cane-coated courtships.
But the bird poop is the telltale sign that Last Christmas is headed straight for the Crapper. Shall we start with said courtship? Both characters are one-dimensional archetypes with grating personalities. There’s no reason to believe in these people, let alone care about them. The doe-eyed Clarke plays Kate as a flitting, more adorable version of Bridget Jones; she is not credible as a woman hardened by life. She calls Yeoh “Santa” and is surprised to learn this isn’t her real name. (Also, if she really wants to make a go of it as a professional singer, may I suggest vocal lessons? Not even Kelly Clarkson would turn the chair around for her on The Voice.)
Golding is as dashing as ever but Tom is a synthetic do-gooder with zero palpable personality traits. No way this couple should ever make it to a second date, and the actors’ lack of chemistry underscores the point. Golding doesn’t even share a single scene with his Crazy Rich Asians mama.
Perhaps actress-co-screenwriter Emma Thompson realized the romance was a dud. This would explain why she decided to cram in about 12 assorted subplots — including the plight of homelessness, a closeted lesbian sister, alcoholism, serious cardiovascular issues, Yeoh’s romance with a Swedish man who likes sauerkraut and immigrant shame in the age of Brexit. Kate and her family hail from the country formerly known as Yugoslavia and her mother (Thompson) looks and behaves like she still lives in a 1930s shtetel. And just when it seems like Last Christmas can’t possibly become more convoluted, we’re saddled with a confusing, eye-roll of a twist that defies all laws of movie plausibility.
But wait, there’s more. Last Christmas is also a jukebox musical! All these shenanigans are set to the pop songs of the late, great George Michael. (The title, in fact, refers to the Wham! classic from 1984.) This idea doesn’t pan out either, as his masterful work is hastily shoe-horned into all the wrong moments. In fact, I wonder if the filmmakers listened to the lyrics of his songs before placing the needle-drops. The somber “Praying for Time” explores the idea that the passage of time is the only relief for those who are suffering from injustice. We hear it while Clarke and Golding go ice-skating on a date. “Freedom ‘90” details Michael’s fight against MTV commercialism and his disdain for personal branding. It’s used here as a fun montage. But, hey, I guess we should be grateful that “Father Figure” isn’t blaring when Golding places Clarke into his bed.
None of it works, or, for that matter, generates laughs. There’s exactly one LOL joke in here and the punchline is “lesbian pudding.” This result is both a shame and a surprise, as Thompson has always come off so biting and smart in her humor and even won an Oscar for adapting Sense & Sensibility back in 1995. And director Paul Feig was responsible for goodies such as Bridesmaids, Spy and A Simple Favor. It’s a no-brainer to think these two talents could collaborate on a winner. Nope. Turns out that crafting a charming, multi-threaded, music-filled, starry holiday rom-com is harder than it looks, actually.
Last Christmas opens in theaters on Friday, November 8.
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