Editor’s Note: The following review contains some spoilers for Last Christmas. Read with caution. (I mean, I don’t spoil the whole thing. I’m not a monster…it just depends on how spoiler averse you are.)
Pulling off a twist in a film is an art form. In a perfect execution, the clues were there all along—tiny breadcrumbs that we could’ve followed, if only we’d been astute enough—but we missed them. But in Last Christmas, the clues are not so much breadcrumbs as enormous blinking signposts. People literally guessed the twist off the trailer. I can’t tell if writer Emma Thompson and director Paul Feig think we’re dumb. Or if they figure we’ll see the film because of the twist.
Look, it’s no mystery why anyone would attempt to make a Christmas film (or song or TV show). Strike a chord with the public and you’ll be rolling in those royalty checks for life. (For all her wealth and success, Mariah Carey probably makes more money off of “All I Want For Christmas is You” than any of her other songs combined.) The Christmas Industrial Complex is real, y’all.
So I can see how all the pieces came together for Last Christmas: A Christmas setting (our heroine works as an “elf” at a store that sells enormous quantities of Christmas kitsch), the irresistible music of George Michael, in particular his big Christmas smash, “Last Christmas,” comely rising stars Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, and an extremely explicit message of loving your fellow man (and kicking Brexit to the curb). And yet…Last Christmas feels ill-conceived from the start.
It starts with the chemistry between those aforementioned beautiful stars—or lack thereof. It’s not even the actors’ faults. Golding’s Tom is a man of mystery, not so much wooing Kate (Clarke), our sitcom wreck of heroine (she sleeps around, eats too many burgers, can’t find a place to stay, is adorably clumsy, etc), as encouraging her to embrace her second chance at life (she is the recipient of a heart transplant). He dances around London like a modern-day Gene Kelly, always telling Kate to “look up” and notice the city’s secret birds and gargoyles and architectural wonders. He disappears for long stretches of time. He doesn’t want to sleep with her. He’s a manic pixie dream celibate.
When the trailer for the film came out, Twitter immediately guessed what Tom’s deal was and, while I won’t ruin it here, suffice it to say, they pretty much nailed it. But the film’s twist actively works against the film, because Tom’s “deal” is the very thing that keeps him and Kate apart.
As for the rest of the film, everything is presented in such a way as to squeeze out maximum “awwwws.” Kate’s boss at the Christmas kitsch shop, nicknamed Santa (Michelle Yeoh) is a gruff woman who gives Kate grief while secretly having maternal affection for her. Santa is wooed by a man who is dumbstruck at the very sight of her and lurks outside the shop waiting for a glimpse of his beloved. (This is meant to be charming, but is actually kind of creepy.) Encouraged by Tom, Kate begins to volunteer at the local homeless shelter—a place where all the homeless are clean and grateful and twinkly-eyed. Kate’s problems in her Croatian family—an overbearing mother (Emma Thompson), a father who is tired of his wife, a sister who is gay but afraid to tell her parents—can all be neatly resolved in a happy Christmas pageant montage at the end. I will admit that Thompson’s mother, who sings off-key Yugoslavian dirges at inopportune times, is the funniest part of the film, but still not funny enough to make up for this dud of a script (sorry, Emma).
Last Christmas tries so darn hard to warm everybody’s heart and get us in the Christmas spirit. The film is so well intentioned, it’s impossible to hate. You don’t want to give it a bad review so much as rap it on the nose with a rolled up newspaper.