For every rom-com, there are buckets of expectations and clichés that come along with them. Boy meets girl, the opposites attracting, the man with the secret, the possibilities go on and on. This Christmas themed rom-com from director Paul Fieg (“A Simple Favor,” “Bridesmaids”) and a screenplay by Emma Thompson (“Nanny McPhee,” “Sense and Sensability”), Bryony Kimmings and Greg Wise does a bit to poke fun at those clichés, but not much.
The one truly reliable thing throughout the film is how darn charming everyone in it is. Emilia Clark (“Game of Thrones,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story”) plays a delightfully cynical brat with Kate, and she manages to straddle the line between annoying the audience with her obliviousness and allowing audiences to want her to be happy. Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “A Simple Favor”) is also charming, but his occasionally spills over into sugary sweetness, risking putting audience members into diabetic comas. Michelle Yeoh (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “Star Trek: Discovery”) is wonderfully sympathetic as the owner of a Christmas shop that Kate works for, and Emma Thompson chews the scenery to bits as Kate’s very Yugoslavian mother Adelia.
The script is the most interesting and confounding part of the film. While it maintains a consistent level of cheeky humor, thanks to Thompson’s comedic skills from projects like “Nanny McPhee,” there aren’t really many laugh out loud moments. There are chuckles throughout, but for a film that seems to want to throw the clichés and premise out the window, it’s surprisingly lacking in belly laughs.
Details also flood the screen, and they’re a welcome addition. They help to flesh out the characters and their lives, without drastically changing the story. For example, the fact that Kate and her family are Yugoslavian, and that her mother frequently falls asleep worrying about Brexit doesn’t change the story, but it does help to flesh their live out and makes them feel like real people.
It is also extremely admirable that Kate’s life is delved into as much as it is, because it means the film focuses entirely on her life. This also puts her self-destructive tendencies into full view, and as she makes the changes necessary in her life, it kind of makes the movie a story about dealing with depression. It's not just about that, and it's clear that depression wasn’t the main point, but it’s a welcome addition, nonetheless.
Then there’s the twist. Anyone who’s seen the trailer for “Last Christmas” knows that it practically screams “I HAVE A TWIST” at you in just how coy it is. Thankfully, the film tones the coyness down a bit, but the twist is still absolutely wild. How does it work? What are the everyday implications of it? What does this actually mean for the kind of person Kate is? None of these questions are answered, and while a film doesn’t have to answer every question it puts out, given how “Last Christmas” ends, IT DEFINITELY OWES SOME ANSWERS.
It’s not as if the film is bad, it’s charming, and thankfully ends up playing the twist like a silly secret, rather than a grand and intelligent reveal. Early on, there’s a sequence wherein Michelle Yeoh’s character is starstruck by a man entering the shop, and while the lighting and music becomes impeccably cheesy at that point, it is clear it’s on purpose.
Moments like those seem few and far between. If the entire film had the self-awareness of that one scene, it's likely that it could have been an instant classic. Likewise, Kate is a constant screwup who drinks a lot and makes some really bad decisions. But they serve to bolster her charm, until they unexpectedly and unceremoniously cease happening.
“Last Christmas” has quite a bit on its side, and while the issues are outright bad, they serve to make the film more lukewarm. A second pass on the screenplay, or even a more self-aware tone could’ve helped improve it, but its deliciously cynical tone, charming actors and sense of silly secrecy make for a fun, if cliched and simplistic, holiday romance romp. 3.5/5