Review: ‘Last Christmas’, Emilia Clarke And Henry Golding Warm The Heart This Holiday Season

Christmas movies don’t just come and go, they tend to last forever, played in homes like clockwork each year while decorating the tree or opening presents. But unless your name is Frank Capra, few directors are ever thought of for the Christmas movies they’ve made. The same will probably go for Paul Feig, whose sweeter-than-a-sugar-cookie romance Last Christmas doesn’t rank among his best, but has the ingredients to be a holiday favorite to be watched over a mug of egg nog.

Set to the soulful sounds of the late great George Michael, Last Christmas not only checks off the boxes of other easy-to-watch holiday films, but also what Feig’s fans have come to expect from one of his comedies. In her most enjoyable non-Game of Thrones role yet, Emilia Clarke plays Kate, a London trainwreck who lives out of her suitcase because she can’t stand being around her overbearing mom (Emma Thompson, also co-writer). Kate’s self-destructive nature has ruined its share of friendships and thrown her job at an all-year Christmas shop in jeopardy more times than she can count. After recovering from a serious medical condition, Kate has basically thrown all caution to the wind.

In true holiday fashion, Kate’s life begins to turn around when she meets that special someone who forces her to look on the bright side of things. Tom (A Simple Favor actor Henry Golding, reuniting with Feig) is unlike anyone Kate has ever met before, encouraging her to “look up” and see a part of London she’s always been too self-involved to notice. He always pops up whenever she needs him most, offering advice that steers Kate in a better direction, one that involves looking towards the needs of others and not just herself. He’s like her own personal Jiminy Cricket, only hot. But as Kate and Tom grow closer, she gets more invested in their relationship while he stays mysteriously at a distance.

Trailers weren’t completely successful at keeping certain plot swerves a total secret. But even knowing what’s up, Last Christmas can still warm the heart and give you a stocking full of hearty laughs. Thompson’s screenplay is full of the kind of clichés that have made Love Actually such an adored (or despised, okay it’s damn divisive) favorite. Kate’s a lovable, well-meaning klutz while Tom is a perfect dreamboat just quirky enough to not be dull. There are meet-cutes everywhere, family squabbles, a chance at redemption, and an illuminated rendition of “Last Christmas” for the supporting characters to shine in.

Clarke is a true delight, and I hope this pulls her into doing more comedies than grim dramas and blockbuster franchises. She’s surrounded by a supporting cast led by Golding, who for all of his appeal as a sex symbol, is better at playing aloof than anything else. I guess the mysterious quality is a big part of that appeal. Michelle Yeoh is a terrific scene-stealer as Kate’s stern-but-kind boss, and while I grimaced at Thompson’s Slavic accent and busted teeth, she has some of the movie’s best one-liners. Of course, Thompson wrote them for herself.

There’s too much that Thompson and co-writer Bryony Kimmings’ screenplay wants to accomplish, including a commentary on the anti-immigrant sentiment fueled by Brexit, and perhaps a little too much time on Kate’s dalliances with random men. It keeps the film from skating by as smoothly as it should across its 103-minute runtime. Feig and cinematographer John Schwartzman make up for it in a sheer overload of Christmas ornamentation. There’s enough tinsel, LED lighting, weird Christmas stocking stuffers and elf costumes to fill a dozen of Santa’s workshops. Last Christmas won’t let you escape the holiday spirit. While the path it takes to your heart is a familiar one, a little bit of happiness is enough of a gift this time of year.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5