While on paper, 2019’s ‘Last Christmas’ might have seemed like a recipe for success, with two charismatic leads in Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding alongside a soundtrack consisting of innumerable George Michael songs, all wrapped-up in a festive London setting under the watchful eye of proficient comedy director Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids, A Simply Favor). In execution, ‘Last Christmas’ is never as humorous or affectionate as it thinks it is, with many scenes coming across as incredibly dull and derivative as the film lacks originality to such an extent that audiences will frequently be reminded of romantic-comedy classics like ‘Love Actually’ and ‘The Holiday’ as they sit through its poorly conceived story and underbaked subplots.
Plot Summary: While working at a year-round Christmas store and sofa-surfing instead of facing her overbearing mother, aspiring singer and frustrated Londoner: ‘Kate,’ meets ‘Tom,’ an alluring young man who charms her with his unusual observations, challenging ‘Kate’s cynical view of the world as a result of her dysfunctional relationships and continuously unsuccessful auditions…
Written by actress Emma Thompson, who also appears in the film as ‘Kate’s mother: ‘Petra.’ ‘Last Christmas’ evidently takes a lot of inspiration from well-known Christmas rom-coms such as the previously mentioned: ‘Love Actually.’ Only, in this case, it becomes difficult to tell the two apart after a while as ‘Last Christmas’ has very few distinctions in terms of both story and visuals, only being set apart by its pivotal plot twist, which some may find absurdly over-the-top and frustrating. Sadly, for a romantic-comedy, ‘Last Christmas’ also falls short when it comes to humour, with many of the film’s gags seeming either immature or foreseeable, as the film rapidly cuts between the characters trying to make it appear as if their quips are transpiring non-stop.
The characters themselves, however, are one of the better aspects of the film, with ‘Kate’s journey from being a self-hating, narcissistic borderline alcoholic, to a content woman savouring every second of her life is enjoyable to watch even in spite of its predictability. And Clarke portrays the character well, leaning more into her actual personality off-camera as a witty, self-effacing and expressive individual. Henry Golding also breaks away from his usual roles for his performance as ‘Tom,’ behaving like a handsome goofball as he and ‘Kate’ wander through the streets of London, never caring what those around him may think. With that said, the main issue with the characters is their absence of backstory, as whilst we are told many things about ‘Kate’ and her sombre past, including when she was severely unwell the previous Christmas, eventually leading her to have a heart transplant. We never see a flashback of this event or anything similar beyond a brief mention, which is a problem that also applies to ‘Kate’s desire to become a West End star as well as the many friends of hers she supposedly screwed over in the past while temporarily staying with them.
In terms of visuals, the cinematography by John Schwartzman conveys the narrative effectively enough, yet barely experiments outside of standard mid-shots or the occasional wide-shot/close-up. A tremendous missed opportunity considering the many brightly light and architecturally captivating streets the characters walk down, which are regularly littered with enchanting Christmas decorations and lights, even if they are primarily white or gold rather than multicoloured.
In addition to the music of George Michael and Wham!, which is, of course, weaved into the film in nearly every scene. The original score by Theodore Shapiro fills in the gaps in-between, with tracks like ‘Secret Garden,’ ‘Self-Pity Party’ and ‘Take Care’ serving as relaxing breaks from the film’s relentless use of beloved Christmas songs. Yet this score is worthy of praise in itself, having many tracks that are beautiful and melancholic pieces that encapsulate the festive setting without overdoing it through the use of jingling bells etc.
Peculiarly, ‘Last Christmas’ also features a subplot revolving around post-Brexit xenophobia, as ‘Kate’ and her family first came into the United Kingdom as refugees from former Yugoslavia. Now, her mother cowers in her home, watching news reports of right-wing demonstrations. A bizarre choice for a Christmas film to be sure, but even more bizarre considering this idea never goes anywhere and isn’t brought-up until the second act. Still, at least one good thing comes out of these moments, as we find out ‘Kate’s full name is ‘Katarina,’ yet she refuses to be called by it, spending much of the film reasserting her own Britishness. A compelling idea that once again, goes nowhere, and only feels as if it was put into the screenplay for the sake of relevance as opposed to emotional weight or social commentary.
In conclusion, even though the combination of iconic Christmas music, a cosy, festive aesthetic and picturesque London scenery should outweigh what flaws ‘Last Christmas’ has, they don’t quite achieve their goal by the runtime’s end. As the film’s constant use of clichés, exposition-heavy dialogue and feeble gags soon become far too overbearing, leaving ‘Last Christmas’ a digestible film at best and an irritating one at worst, even with its climactic plot twist being very much in line with the story’s wistful yuletide spirit. Final Rating: high 4/10.