Directed by Paul Feig
Starring Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh
There are no words more dispiriting for a reviewer to say than, I really wanted to like it, but… So it gives me no pleasure to say those words about Last Christmas, which should be an instant holiday classic given that it features a screenplay co-written by the formidable Emma Thompson (who shares writing duties with Bryony Kimmings from a story conceptualized by Thompson and husband Greg Wise), electric chemistry between Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke and Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding, and the director of Bridesmaids and Spy at the helm…but it just isn’t.
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Where exactly does Last Christmas go off the rails? I certainly can’t blame Clarke, who doggedly reaches for the humanity in Kate, a Slavic immigrant whose singing prodigy status is derailed after a health crisis sends her spinning into a dissolute life of one-night stands, family alienation, and underemployment as an elf in a relentlessly quirky Christmas store owned by a Chinese émigré who insists on calling herself Santa (Michelle Yeoh, easily the best thing about the movie). I can’t lay the finger on Henry Golding, doing that earnest, twinkling leading-man thing as Tom, an enigmatic stranger who often pops up when Kate needs some course correction. And I can’t accuse Thompson the actress, who wrote herself lines as Kate’s mom in a Balkan accent so she could have an entry point to talk about Brexit and the xenophobia raging through much of Europe.
But I can heap the blame on Thompson the screenwriter who, even with her whimsical humor intact (watch out for a baboon plushie that screeches as it plays the title song), just can’t seem to get a grip on the material. The ads tout the presence of George Michael’s music, even though Last Christmas doesn’t really integrate his music into the plot or highlight his creative spirit in any appreciable way. And then the movie telegraphs its supposedly jaw-dropping twist from a mile away: First, by making nary an effort to conceal the moments when Golding appears onscreen under any hint of ambiguity; and second, by using a line from the title song out of context in a way that will make you facepalm. Last Christmas has its charms—until it doesn’t. It’s like Christmas flan made with lots of sugar and rotten eggs.
Photographs from Universal Pictures