As November begins so does the Christmas selling campaign, which includes the annual slew of Christmas movies. For a couple of years there have been no real hits in this genre, with most flicks playing it safe. However, a new film penned by Emma Thompson looks to chart a new path utilizing Wham!’s “Last Christmas” as its narrative inspiration.
Last Christmas (2019) is a holiday romantic comedy. Kate (Emilia Clarke) is a grumpy and pessimistic Londoner who works at a year-round Christmas shop. There seems to be a hurtful past to Kate, who emigrated from Yugoslavia during the Balkan War and is still suffering an identity crisis. One day, however, she bumps into a handsome stranger named Tom (Henry Golding), who begins to give her a new perspective on life.
The film and its premise seem as clichéd and generic as one might expect. However, the script by Thompson and Bryony Kimmings and the direction from comedy master Paul Feig (Bridesmaids (2011), Spy (2015)) permit these moments to be of a satisfying indulgence. Clarke in the lead role is also able to lend an energy and sprightliness that prove to be magnetic. Even as the film slows down in certain moments, Clarke is able to keep viewers engaged as they become invested in her emotional foibles. Golding is used more sparingly and in small doses, which as we saw in Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and A Simple Favor (2018) allows his charm to exude more (he is not a classically trained actor, having come from being a TV presenter).
Last Christmas seems to tread in generic territory a bit too much, and despite being more self aware about its reality, it still rides unoriginal coattails. However, as the film nears its finale the risks and boldness from Thompson’s script begin to appear. For eagle-eyed viewers, the film’s great twist will be hinted at earlier, nevertheless the revelation is executed with great emotional heft – assuredly sweeping away any pessimists in the audience.
There were also underlying hints at the repressions of Brexit and the xenophobia running rampant in Europe, as well as a delicate look at depression and self-acceptance. There are clear parallels and allusions to Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which gave the narrative’s themes and structure a powerful transcendence. Thompson and Feig, are able to hold back from having too “Hollywood” of an ending, lending a more realistic but equally sentimental finale.
Last Christmas might follow its genre’s tropes a bit too much, but there is an air of originality inhabited by the screenplay and direction. Clarke is vigorous in the lead role, so much so that she carries the film at its most cheesy moments, waving them away with impressive gravitas. The interpretation that Thompson brought to the Wham! Christmas hit is sure to tug at heartstrings as well as give you a completely different perspective of the song itself.