Oopsie! When Universal posted its first trailer for LAST CHRISTMAS back in September, they surely couldn’t have expected netizens to figure out the story’s surprise twist from just the three-minute clip but that’s exactly what happened. The tale of a young woman in London who gets a second chance at life and the mysterious heartthrob who helps her find her way is so blatantly obvious that even a blind person can see how it will play out from a mile away. It certainly doesn’t help that the film is inspired by the music of the late George Michael and specifically his 1984 megahit, “Last Christmas”.
Katarina, who prefers to be called “Kate” (Emilia Clarke, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY; ME BEFORE YOU; TERMINATOR: GENISYS; TV’s GOT) these days, is something of a trainwreck. An aspiring singer-actor, her life has been in a tailspin since her operation the year before. During the day, she works as an elf in a year-round Christmas store run by a qipao-wearing Chinese woman who goes by the name of “Santa” (Michelle Yeoh, CRAZY RICH ASIANS; GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2), and at night, when she’s not running to auditions (do auditions usually take place at night?), she’s drowning her sorrows in a bar, hooking up with men she doesn’t know, and torching her relationships with her friends by being a completely selfish brat. She’s no better with her family either, though they have their issues too. Immigrants from “the former Yugoslavia” in 1999 (um, didn’t Yugoslavia cease to exist in 1992?), mom Petra (Dame Emma Thompson, MIB: INTERNATIONAL; BRIDGET JONES’S BABY; SAVING MR. BANKS) is overbearing, dad Ivan (Boris Isakovic) is a former lawyer who now drives for an online ride hailing service, and older sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) is a successful lawyer and closet lesbian who, no matter how many promotions she gets at work, can never compete with Kate for their parents’ affections. As obnoxious as Kate is, her life changes when she meets Tom Webster (Henry Golding, A SIMPLE FAVOR; CRAZY RICH ASIANS), a handsome and irrepressibly chipper man who always manages to show up when Kate is at her lowest. Tom introduces Kate to a side of London that she’s never seen before and teaches her to always look up even if it means that you may get pooed on by a bird.
Ugh. Kill me now. LATE CHRISTMAS is so irritatingly treacly that it should come with a warning that it may induce diabetic shock. It’s hard to pinpoint which is worse — the story, written by Thompson and her husband Greg Wise, or the performance by Clarke, who continues to show audiences that her impressive stint as TV’s “Mother of Dragons” was a fluke. She really is one of the most overrated British actors on screen today. (She’s the male equivalent of Sam Claflin.) Maybe some blame should also go to director Paul Feig (A SIMPLE FAVOR; GHOSTBUSTERS; SPY) who ultimately put this Hallmark-ish holiday film from hell together. Going back to that story though, who could possibly have thought that throwing jokes about genocide and intolerance into a Christmas movie would be funny? Yet here they are. LAST CHRISTMAS ticks all the social boxes — immigrants, the homeless, the disabled, gays, underemployment,… even Brexit is mentioned. Interestingly, the NHS (National Health Service), which no doubt covered Kate’s operation, is not. But all that fades into the background as the story weaves together some of George Michael’s greatest hits into an anthem of sorts to Kate’s life (her alarm clock plays “Wake Me up Before You Go-Go”, for example) except when it doesn’t. In one scene where Kate and Tom have their first kiss, “I Want Your Sex” is notably absent. Too risqué, perhaps?
If “Last Christmas” is at the top of your Spotify Christmas playlist, you may actually enjoy this film. If, however, the song ranks up there with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” as something that fills you with thoughts of poking out your eardrums with a pair of chopsticks, you will be well advised to stay far away from this film. Clearly, audiences are falling into the first group while critics are falling into the second. Though LAST CHRISTMAS has been widely panned, the film has already taken in close to US$70 million at the box office making it a hit. Amazing.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live from the International Film Festival & Awards – Macao on Friday, December 5th, 8:30 am HK time! (This should be interesting.)
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