Last Christmas (2019)
Directed by Paul Feig
Three years ago, prior to the release of “Collateral Beauty,” critics claimed that the Will Smith drama would be the worst movie of 2016, or the decade, or maybe ever. Early buzz was overwhelmingly negative. Ahead of “Last Christmas,” another holiday drama that takes an early hold of your heartstrings (or tries to, anyway)…I’ve heard almost nothing. But I’m here to say that the Paul Feig-directed “Last Christmas” (based loosely on the George Michael song) may be more embarrassing than that schlocky film from a few years back. To be fair, neither bothered to try anything new, and both seemed content to pull the same heartstrings in much the same ways (but without the same results, sadly) as so many other Christmas tearjerkers. But something about “Last Christmas,” especially, felt extra lazy.
Kate (Emilia Clarke) is recently homeless (but don’t say that word in front of her!) after being kicked out of her flat by her roommate. She has a steady-enough job at a year-round Christmas store working for her boss, “Santa” (Michelle Yeoh), but otherwise, her life is a wreck. That is, until she meets Tom (Henry Golding), a philanthropic and handsome man who stumbles into Kate’s life exactly when she needs him.
Director Paul Feig’s latest outing, the sleek thriller “A Simple Favor,” was a big step up from his usual fare (like “The Heat” and “Spy”). “Last Christmas” is different from anything he’s done before…but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Maybe it’s not his fault. Maybe, instead, we should blame Emma Thompson for her part in writing the screenplay. Thompson, after (deservedly!) winning an Oscar for adapting “Sense and Sensibility” in 1996, has since lent her pen to some less-than-Shakespearean fare (“Nanny McPhee,” “Bridget Jones’s Baby”). When I heard that George Michael’s song “Last Christmas” was being adapted into a feature-length movie, I was skeptical. My fears were justified. The screenwriting crew (Thompson, plus two first-timers) simply couldn’t decide how loosely to adapt the song, and how much of it they wanted to use (truthfully, if they never mentioned the inspiration, I think they could have passed this movie off as an original idea).
The lone bright spot is the star at the center of this galaxy. Emilia Clarke, fresh off the final season of “Game of Thrones,” brings her usual British charm to the lead role. She gets you on her side right away. Thompson, who plays Kate’s mother, uses a comically put-on eastern European accent that verges on mockery.
Like any Christmas-set romance, “Last Christmas” can be, at times, adorable. And I admit, the ending gave me a warm feeling for a moment. But once I began reflecting on what I had just watched, any warm feelings quickly froze up. It’s just not worth it.