Review: Last Christmas a seasonally appropriate crowd-pleaser
Three and a half stars
Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson
Running time: 103 minutes
Verdict: A seasonally appropriate crowd-pleaser
First, let’s start with a disclaimer: Christmas movies simply aren’t judged by the same rules as their non-festive counterparts. There’s a much higher tolerance for schmaltz. Quasi-religious experiences are common. Glitter and tinsel are mandatory.
Last Christmas, written by Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings and directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), follows closely in that tradition.
Think of a more secular version of It’s A Wonderful Life, transplanted to Brexit-era London and featuring a contemporary female protagonist, and you’re on the right track.
Emilia Clarke will be forever associated with Game Of Thrones’ arrogant dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen, but she also has a natural affinity for 21st century kooks (Me Before You). The English actor’s out-sized smile and big-hearted klutziness are hugely appealing — even when the humour doesn’t entirely hit the mark.
And so it is here.
In Last Christmas, named after the George Michael hit that is performed in the film’s feel-good finale, she plays Kate, a would-be singer currently moonlighting as an elf in a Covent Garden Christmas store. After a series of bad decisions, the self-destructive singleton eventually runs out of couches to sleep on.
In desperation, she returns to the family home, which is dominated by her dour, unhappy mother, a Yugoslavian immigrant played with theatrical relish by Thompson.
At about the same time, Kate (an anglicisation of her birth name Katarina) has a serendipitous encounter with a dashing cyclist (Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding).
There’s something a bit odd about Tom — one obvious tell is the strange little dance he performs at random moments (a move that appears to channel either Gene Kelly in Singin’ In the Rain or Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz).
His physical restraint is also rather curious, and since he’s got rid of his mobile phone, he can be a bit hard to track down. But he’s a good listener and even better company.
Under Tom’s tutelage, Kate starts to take better care of herself and her relationships with those around her. But as time passes, it becomes clear that he’s holding something back.
When Tom goes MIA for several weeks, Kate is drawn to the homeless shelter where he volunteers. In his absence, she finds her own niche there.
Last Christmas leads us slowly, inexorably towards a resolution that feels at once obvious and strangely satisfying (within the very particular laws of yuletide cinema).
There’s a quietly insistent subplot that addresses racial and cultural tolerance against a backdrop of growing xenophobia — supported by the casting of Michelle Yeoh as Kate’s long-suffering employer Santa.
And it’s hard to argue with Last Christmas’s overarching argument for the healing properties of kindness and compassion.
A seasonally appropriates crowd-pleaser — with a poignant twist.
Originally published as ’Tis the season for schmaltz