07 November 2019 02:32
People are desperate for holiday cheer. We want the days to be perfect, are deep in our feelings, and wonder if all of our problems could be solved by some cookies, champagne, and mistletoe. It's why Hallmark is making millions of dollars, and why Netflix is now doubling down on the fun. After a hiatus, rom-coms are once again making a comeback, so the timing is perfect for another joyful silly holiday romance fest. It gives me no pleasure to be a grinch and announce that Last Christmas, starring Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke and co-written by Emma Thompson inspired by the George Michael song of the same name is decidedly a mess.
Clarke plays Katarina, a quirky, klutzy protagonist! But that doesn't fly so much anymore (correct) so this time around the issues are more real: She's had a serious health issue in the past, and coming out of that, she's having trouble reconnecting with the world. She's a careless friend, struggles with her family, including her overbearing mother (Thompson), and is phoning it in at her job at a Christmas store. Enter her sweet manic pixie dream of a nice boy, Tom (Henry Golding, a perfect blank canvas) who seems too good to be true — but may be just the thing to pull her out of her funk. All of this had the potential to be sweet harmless fun directed by Paul Feig set against a swoon-y backdrop of London at Christmastime. But a series of bizarre choices snap you out of the holiday spirit faster than some spoiled eggnog. For one thing, for a film very decidedly set in modern times, it has some very other-era takes on How Technology Is Bad. There are tossed-in references about Snapchat, and Kate is a regular on Swiper, a Tinder stand in (just call it Tinder?) that lets audiences know she's looking for love in all the wrong places. Tom, in his genial way, tells her she spends too much time on her phone and not enough time connecting with people, even though she regularly is meeting up with guys at bars. "Look up!" he tells her repeatedly, without much explanation. Odder still, Last Christmas is not so much about finding love at the holidays but... Brexit. Katarina's family are struggling Yugoslavian immigrants, so naturally they feel particularly attacked at the current unfolding real-world horrors. Awful stuff, to be sure, but putting scenes of racist hate in the same movie where Michelle Yeoh's shop owner character is having a wacky love-at-first-sight romp (think Rowan Atkinson in Love Actually hijinks) is jarring. Exactly how seriously are we suppose to be taking any of this? Which leads me to the biggest WTF stuff, and where I'll issue a spoiler alert to stop reading now if you don't want to know the ending, though I'd argue anyone who has seen the trailer knows where this is going. Image: universal Pictures Her sweet guy Tom who pops up randomly, doesn't have a phone, and seems too good to be true, is. Cue that George Michael: Last Christmas, I gave you my heart... He died last year and literally gave her his heart, explaining why the two feel such a connection. Listen, I like Ghost as much as the next person, but the internal logic of the final act twist is all over the place. Is Tom a literal ghost/spirit or more like a feeling? They certainly don't explain! If he's a feeling, why were they kissing? If he's a ghost, why can't he stick around? It's not a case of Tom's spirit helping her move on with her life; he's a ghost that is ghosting her! He leaves her at her lowest point and it's only after he disappears that she begins to "get better" and engage with the community and put on a joyful Christmas show at a local shelter (starring herself which, hmm.) Clearly, your own personal "going with it" milage on all of this is going to vary wildly based on how much you enjoy watching cute, sweet people fall in love to the catchy tunes of George Michael. Maybe seeing a woman get some help courtesy of Tom the Friendly Ghost Who Literally Gave Her His Heart Whatever Just Don't Think About It Too Hard will deliver the same holiday comfort as eating a pound of raw cookie dough. For the rest of us, it all hits like a holiday hangover. Last Christmas is in theaters Nov. 8.