Universal’s marketing department has been working overtime to sell the new romantic comedy Last Christmas as some sort of spiritual cousin to what is now apparently considered a modern-day holiday classic: Love, Actually. Remember Emma Thompson, who appeared in just one of that film’s myriad storylines? Well, she co-wrote this! And if you’re saying ‘so what? She had nothing to do with the creation of Love, Actually, that it was Richard Curtis’ — well, Last Christmas is set in London, too, so it’s basically the same movie. This sales strategy is cynical and lazy and, as it turns out, totally apt for the film. Even though director Paul Feig would seem to know his way around a studio comedy — helming such recent memorable offerings as Bridesmaids, Spy, and A Simple Favor — his off-kilter comedic sensibilities don’t really manifest themselves here. And that’s an undeniable missed opportunity since, frankly, the holiday genre as a whole could use some weirdness.
Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke stars as Kate, who we’re introduced to 20 years prior to the present, belting out a holiday tune in a church located in the former Yugoslavia…in English. The implication is that Kate’s family fled the war-torn nation not long after, although the better question is, what the hell is any of this doing in a holiday romantic comedy, especially when nothing really ever comes of it? The contemporary Kate is a selfish and petty individual who avoids her family and takes advantage of her friends. She’s also a struggling actress who works at a Christmas shop run by a woman named Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Oh yeah, she loves George Michael, too — because, as the opening credits of Last Christmas plainly state, this film was “inspired” by its titular tune. To top it all off, Kate is recovering from a mysterious surgery that she went through the year before, which saved her life.
Somehow, robbery, men obsessed with sauerkraut, secret lesbian relationships, dick jokes, troubled marriages, insomnia, and talent shows work their way into the proceedings — and all that comes before the film’s ‘big twist,’ a Nicolas Sparks-worthy reveal most viewers will see coming a mile away.
One day, seemingly out of nowhere, the charming Tom Webster (Henry Golding) enters Kate’s life, the two share a meet-cute (one involving bird shit), and soon, Kate is learning to be a better person by following her love interest’s example, which basically involves volunteering at a homeless shelter, eating better, and not being a bitch to everyone. Somehow, robbery, men obsessed with sauerkraut, secret lesbian relationships, dick jokes, troubled marriages, insomnia, and talent shows work their way into the proceedings — and all that comes before the film’s ‘big twist,’ a Nicolas Sparks-worthy reveal most viewers will see coming a mile away. Feig sleepwalks through his directing of this busy plot, his touch lacking any sense of energy, but as Kate, Clarke sure tires hard, in what seems like a desperate act of overcompensation that’s honestly appreciated, and kind of perversely charming. Golding, on the other hand, exudes an effortlessness that’s winning in its own way. But these two actors, together, have a stunning lack of chemistry. And so with no real magic to speak of — neither of the romantic nor holiday variety — Last Christmas simply goes through its rom-com motions, with some self-help pop psychology babblings along the way. Kate turns her life around in what basically amounts to a montage — better to make time for the inevitable group sing-along to the title song. George Michael could roll around in his grave somewhere, if he felt the need, but Feig and Co. never do much here to warrant more than a shrug. Last Christmas sucks, actually.