Christmas movies, rom-coms, and George Michael may not be things that seem like they would fall within my taste, which so many have been quick to label as pretentious, but they all bring me quite a lot of joy.With that said, ever since I first became acquainted with the concept of Last Christmas, I was eagerly awaiting the day I would finally get to see it. Later when I discovered it had some talent involved like director Paul Feig, writer and actress Emma Thompson, and performers Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, I was entirely ready to begin yearly rewatches of what seemed destined to be a new seasonal favorite. Unfortunately, in many ways the film is less than the sum of its parts (or perhaps exactly the sum of its parts as most seemed to doubt that it would even be tolerable) and despite having a lot of fun, I left disappointed with how all those seemingly great aspects played out together.
This may sound like the worst criticism I could level at a film but my biggest problem with Last Christmas was that it just wasn’t dumb enough. That isn’t to say that Christmas films, romance films, and films featuring the musical stylings of George Michael can’t inherently be smart and serious films; but apart from a few moments searching for some gravity, Last Christmas was generally on the lighter side of things without ever fully leaning into the cheesiness that makes some similar films so endearing. Between some barely surface level commentary on Brexit, rising nationalism, and a plot about recovering from a life threatening illness, the film seems to want to be taken seriously. With hardly any transition Last Christmas jumps right into goofy scenes about relationships based on sauerkraut and frying a fish with a hair dryer, causing quite a few jarring tonal differences.
Oh, and there’s that plot twist, (which you can read about in our Spoiler Room column) that the film buries pretty well but the trailers laid right out there for many to figure out. Despite its predictability, it plays fairly well and has some emotional resonance but also seems so absurd that I couldn’t help but laugh, only furthering the imbalance the film faced. As is often the case, it was more frustrating to watch the film come close to being great just to veer off course when it got closer than it would have been to have an outright failure.
Perhaps the worst mistake the film made was consistently using the music in an underwhelming manner. The film was named after a George Michael song and made it clear in all of the marketing that his songs would be a part of the film, even including a never before released song. Despite all the attention the music was given in marketing, most every time any of the songs were used, any number of other songs could’ve been played instead to the same effect and they had little bearing on the scenes or thematic content.
Still, despite any missteps the film made, the concept was too charming for it to ever really drive me away. Even if it didn’t always work together, the humorous scenes were often hilarious, the emotional scenes were impactful on their own, and all the performances created great characters. Michelle Yeoh and Emma Thompson both had roles that could’ve easily slipped into eye roll inducing territory but generally kept them acceptably amusing, if sometimes a bit too far into caricature. Henry Golding, on the other hand, continues to prove his worth as a leading man. As charming as ever, his presence is magnetic and a brief James Bond impression further sold me on the idea that he should be the next actor to portray 007. Emilia Clarke plays Kate who, unlike Golding’s Tom, is something of a mess who can’t seem to get her life together after a mysterious illness the year before which leads to some excellent moments between the two. She’s endearing in the role and makes you want to see her succeed even as she, somewhat frustratingly, seems to want the exact opposite.
Despite its lead wearing an elf costume for much of the film, Last Christmas is no Elf, and it may culminate in a musical performance, but it isn’t any Love Actually either. Last Christmas is a warm and cheerful worthwhile film that will likely hit enough of the right notes for anyone who, like me, prefers to start their Christmas celebrations before Thanksgiving.