Last Christmas Review: Filled With A Charming, Heartwarming Holiday Spirit
Critics Consensus for this movie: Likable leads, terrific behind-the-scenes talent, and an intriguing musical hook aren’t enough to save Last Christmas from its poorly conceived story.
I would’ve loved to watch Paul Feig and Emma Thompson (who co-wrote the story idea) pitch this in a meeting. Were people laughing? Crying? I’m going to guess both. But seriously. Minor spoilers right at the top. Go back and listen to Last Christmas. Yes, someone is literally going to give someone else their heart. Oh, boy.
Last Christmas is going to work on you one of two ways. You’ll either guess the spoiler midway through and thank it’s hokum. Or you’ll be fooled by its blatant trickery, and weep thick chunks of rock salt for the last fifteen minutes. This is evidenced by the fifty-fifty reaction I experienced at my own theater.
Perhaps I’m too cynical at this stage in life? But I hardly ever guess the big twist in any given movie. So that I saw where this was going fairly early on means it’s pretty sloppy with its biggest reveal. Though, there is a speech that comes on the cusp of that big third act shocker. It’s supposed to be emotional and heartfelt, swung like a hammer. ‘Feel your feelings, fool!’ A real kick in the ribs. Sorry. All I could do is stare at that bug crawling around in Emilia Clarke’s hair.
Yes, there is a goddamn bug crawling around in the girl’s hair, and I can’t tell if it was done on purpose, if it’s a joke to distract from the big emotional punch of the dialogue, or if no one noticed this overzealous extra on the day the scene was shot.
This moment between Emilia Clarke’s Kate (or Katarina as everyone likes to point out is her real name) and Henry Golding as bike obsessed weirdo Tom, is supposed to be upsetting. The big dramatic crescendo heading into that third act power play. Perhaps the movie’s most important scene? But as I watched that bug struggle and dance to escape movie-grade hairspray, I started laughing. But realized no one else in the theater was. I wasn’t laughing at the dialogue.
Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke sit on a bench, discussing there impossible romance. And you can see the gnat plain as goddamn day. It’s akin to the fly eating scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Bravo. Did Paul Feig not notice it on the playback screen in video village? Did he think it was natural and of the moment so he kept it in? Is it supposed to be an Easter egg? I’m clueless.
I personally feel that this is the type of one star movie both Siskel and Ebert would have mercilessly bullied on their show. Thumbs down, for sure. But they’re not around any more to pick and pull at this nonsense. Maybe Bill Maher is right, maybe someone does need to bring Bullies back. Perhaps it would stop us from getting this kind of holiday dreck in theaters. There comes a point late in the game when Kate is trudging up some laborious hill, and I could literally hear Ebert’s voice in my head, ‘Dear god can someone please get this girl a new jacket and some new shoes.’
Yeah, yeah, yeah. She’s broke and lives in these clothes. But come on. She’s back at home with her parents, and that overbearing mom, as played by Emma Thompson, would have surely been as sick of those boots as the audience. Right? The fact that I’m looking at this girl’s boots means one of two things. They are practically their own character, or they are more interesting than anything else being shown on screen.
What is this movie, anyway? Spoiler time, so turn around if you’re easy to fool or unable to pick up on fat hints as to where this is all going in the end. The movie meanders along with its mouthful of inconsequential dialogue. At the 40 minute mark, you realize, someone in this story HAS to be dead. Otherwise what’s the point? if none of these characters are ghosts, this has to be the worst, most pointless Christmas movie ever. For a few minutes, you may wrestle with who that dead person could be. The guessing game will keep you distracted from some of the absolute banality on screen.
This is not Paul Feige’s finest hour. And if you hated Ghostbusters 2016, it’s best you stay home or wait for the movie’s Netflix debut. The real kicker here is that the George Micheal song upon which the story is based is the biggest spoiler.
Last Christmas, boiled down to its bare essence, is a Millennial retelling of A Christmas Carol. Though told in a subverted way. Katarina is a spoiled selfish wank, our stand-in Scrooge. But the movie falls into a trap of using this unlikable cliche of Millennial life. The girl is hard to root for at every turn. When her redemption arrives, it’s impossible to care. It’s as if a millennial themself is retelling the story with heavy emphasis on how they ‘changed’, a little too excited to tell you that they are a new person, while still exhibiting the exact same behavior that got them in trouble in the first place.
It’s all very ‘me, me, me’ to the point where you want to give up and throw in the towel. If you’re ever on anyone’s side in this movie, it’s anyone else but Kate. The sister, the mom, the dad, the boss. They would all make for a better movie’s central character. Kate is a side character that should get a few scenes. Comic relief at best, given her own vehicle to ride around in and crash against the curbs. Even the poor old handsome Ghost of Christmas past at the center of this tale would be a more interesting central subject to grasp onto. But he’s barely around, sprinkled in for some serious life changing mumbo jumbo. All of the side characters here are more interesting than the grease spot at the center of the movie. Kate is a stubborn stain.
It’s not Emilia Clarke’s fault. She’s charming enough for someone you never really grow to care about or like much at all. Nor am I pointing fingers at millennials. They be who they be. The problem here is, you got Feig in his Hitchcock suit and Dandy cane directing this, what should be a young man’s game. There is a very heavy boomer-millennial disconnect hovering around the dome at all times, and it all reads like a heavy-handed dissertation on the worst kind of Millennial behavior. And how that behavior needs to be Scrooged out of existence with literally a man-sized heart. And it all rings very false and weird.
Last Christmas, over all, falls into the same trap as the canceled Netflix series Girlboss and this summer’s horror favorite Midsommar. The central character is not likable. But not in a hate-able way. Tolerable, but like the rest of the characters in the movie, you, too, will want to get away from her as soon as possible.
You may find yourself politely nodding at her the whole time, wishing you could run for the door. Problem, you have to spend nearly every single scene with her, and that awful wild cat print jacket. Once she finds her redemption, I couldn’t help but smile politely and nod, ‘Ok, cool. Can I go now?’
It’s my own personal belief, but if someone the same age as the main character had revised the script and directed the movie, I’m positive they could have made me give just a little bit more of a shit. Paul Feig has aged out of this material. And while half the audience might buy into its big blatant attempt at selling tissues, I’m of the other half that is springing from my seat, happy to never spend another second with Katarina. Last Christmas comes to us from Universal Studios, and though I didn’t care for it much, it’ll probably be a Christmas cult classic in the years to come. I bet you see it somewhere along the way. Probably on an airplane. Next to a screaming baby.
Rating: PG-13 (for language and sexual content)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Directed By: Paul Feig
Written By: Emma Thompson, Bryony Kimmings
In Theaters: Nov 8, 2019 Wide
Runtime: 102 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
What are the Critics saying about ‘Last Christmas’?
Manohla Dargis (New York Times)
The pairing of Clarke and Golding proves an impossible hurdle, making even the seemingly simplest moments – an intimate walk, a heartfelt talk – feel badly labored.
David Sims (The Atlantic)
One’s tolerance may vary when it comes to live singalongs of George Michael songs and tender family reconciliations, but I found myself won over.
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)
It takes skill to devise a resolution that’s simultaneously predictable and nonsensical, but “Last Christmas” manages it.
Brian Lowry (CNN.com)
Clarke is charming and easy to root for, even saddled with elf shoes and slim material, and Yeoh and Thompson enliven a movie that frequently feels as if it’s drifting between interludes.