“You’ve got to take care of your heart.”
It’s hard to explain just how off everything about Last Christmas feels from the first scene to the last. It’s a comedy lacking laughs, a romance mostly missing sparks, and it tries to be a serious drama without investing in personal stakes. What’s meant to be flirtatious and fun and heartwarming instead comes across as a bad holiday episode of Grey’s Anatomy, and it’s every bit as sterile as a surgeon wearing his or her scrubs. Last Christmas wants to surprise us with a secret gift inside an ornately wrapped box, but it doesn’t have the prowess or the patience to resist divulging the painfully obvious twist tucked inside. This package is practically translucent.
Recently kicked out by her roommate, the cynical and downtrodden Kate (Emilia Clarke) works at a year-round Christmas shop, dressed as an elf selling gifts with a fake smile and feigned yuletide greetings. She calls her boss Santa (Michelle Yeoh), burns a bridge with her seemingly only close friend, and begrudgingly lands back at home with her immigrant parents Petra (Emma Thompson) and Ivan (Boris Isakovic). Petra obsesses over Kate’s well-being, to the point that she overlooks her other daughter Marta (Lydia Leonard), who’s far more successful and stable but still hiding her sexuality in the back of the closet. Last Christmas uses convoluted family dynamics as a means of trying to flesh out the characters, when in reality it only renders them less accessible. The people here get run over by a trudging force of plot, much like Grandma by a reindeer.
When it’s not focused on manufacturing feeling, the film actually finds a brief, fleeting sweet spot with the curious romance at its center. That’s where Tom (Henry Golding) comes into the foray, giving new life to this otherwise stale and still manger decoration. Tom’s effortlessly charming, confounding, and continues to pursue Kate despite their obvious ideological differences. She’s a realist and he’s an optimist. As she’s known to do, Clarke overacts in many of their scenes together, which is a shame because she’s just so endearing when she does less. And while Golding could charm the skin off a snake, his character is so thinly written in order to maintain mystery that we don’t get to properly know him. He’s a stranger, albeit an intriguing one.
Helmed by Paul Feig, who’s competent behind the camera and has made a career out of directing so many mediocre (at best) comedies, Last Christmas is done no favors from the script written by Thompson and her husband Greg Wise. You can tell watching it that Wise has never written directly for the screen, nor has the other contributor Byrony Kimmings, and Emma Thompson brings a few laughs but no heart to the story. It’s so odd that Last Christmas – a film that tries to shock audiences by adapting the lyrics of the famous Wham! holiday song with such a literal interpretation – is so in need of a defibrillator. Highly manipulative, full of folly, and dressed from head to toe in one size fits all attire, Last Christmas never comes close to landing the ambitious dismount. It wants to be The Bishop’s Wife when in reality it’s more P.S. I Love You meets John Q. Leave the tag on and keep the receipt…you’ll want your money back.
“Nothing feels right.”
Rating: 1.5 out of 5