Buckle up, “Last Christmas” viewers. This one is so bad, it’s good.
This romantic comedy is directed by Paul Feig and co-written by the great Emma Thompson. The story follows Kate (Emilia Clarke), a cynical woman with a troubled life, in her journey of self-discovery and renewal. Along the way, Kate meets Tom (Henry Golding), the love interest, obviously. He teaches her to look up when life gets tough, and Kate falls for the magic.
There’s a Nicholas Sparks-level twist ending, but the film doesn’t explain the mechanics of how any of this works, so the narrative is a tad disappointing. Another issue the movie tries to tackle is Brexit, and at times this storyline feels sandwiched in just for the sake of making a statement while not being cohesive with the main plot. This film affirms the rom-com genre’s bad reputation and all critics who scoff at the notion of watching a nonsensical, cheesy movie. (ex: “You watch rom-coms? Not me, darling, I only watch Martin Scorsese’s work.”)
The movie is not award-winning by any means. The cinematography is good, but not inventive, and the sound design follows this same pattern. But it’s a Christmas movie that’s more than just a Christmas movie. It’s an emotionally engaging, serendipitous story.
Clarke’s performance taps into what it’s like to have a bad day, something everyone can relate to. Every time life sucks for Kate, whether it’s not having a place to stay or dealing with an overwhelming family, Clarke makes sure the audience is strapped in for the emotional rollercoaster. Her air of frustration isn’t melodramatic. It’s almost defeated and feels very much genuine.
There’s a simplicity about the chemistry between Kate and Tom. The most action they get is a kiss goodnight, so the narrative focuses on emotional vulnerability rather than just getting naked. This narrative, coupled with the captivating performances given by Clarke and Golding, complete with a sense of goofiness and sincerity, is enough to melt a cold heart.
George Michael’s songs being intermingled throughout the film boosts this sentiment. His lyrics emphasize the feelings of each scene without being overbearing. Yes, the title song is obvious, but other tracks are tender lullabies or whispers to oneself. By incorporating the late Michael’s work, the film has an air of nostalgia that’s quite fitting with the Christmas vibe. And the film in no way disrespects Michael. He told Thompson the movie had his blessing before passing away in 2016.
That being said, Thompson gives a brilliant performance, as always. This is her first holiday film since “Love, Actually,” but the two roles couldn’t be more different. For this film, in addition to co-writing, Thompson also plays Petra, Kate’s Yugoslavian émigré mother, and pulls off the role exquisitely. Between language slip-ups and slavic folk songs, it’s relatable for anyone with foreign parents.
This film will probably not be added to the list of Christmas classics, but it’s worth seeing, either on the big screen or rented legally at home. It’s a refreshing, feel-good story that just so happens to take place during the holiday season.