We never should have doubted Emilia Clarke. Or Henry Golding. Or Dame Emma Thompson.
Reactions to this holiday film’s trailer were, at best, not great. Murmurs that it looked like it would flop circulated faster than Santa can fly around the world in one night, and many critiques were filled with apprehension at Clarke going straight from “Game of Thrones” to a Christmas movie in which she wears an elf costume in more scenes than not.
And while “Last Christmas” will appeal to a very...particular audience (let’s just say I see this as more of a girls’ night movie than something you’ll bring your boyfriend or husband along for), it was absolutely delightful, albeit predictable.
As I said, this is going to be a spoiler-filled review, so let me get it out into the open now: The “twist” is exactly what early theorists thought it was going to be.
Golding’s character, Tom Webster, utilized as a knight-in-shining-armor-slash-Mr.-Dependable type, is always in the right place at the right time when Kate/Katarina (more on the name thing later) seems to need a friend, or if nothing else, a little hope. He prances around while the two take a stroll through London together to dodge passersby and has a thing about taking time to look up. He doesn’t seem to have a flaw, and all signs point toward “ghost” -- but scenes like when he takes Kate ice skating and helps her decorate a Christmas tree in the shop she works in try to lead you to believe that he’s a real, functioning, live human being. Alas.
Yes, you all guessed correctly: “Last Christmas” takes the iconic Wham! tune (the George Michael-filled soundtrack is 10/10, by the way) and makes it literal. Tom is, in fact, a ghost (I took it more as a spiritual figment of Kate’s imagination or guardian angel thing, but that’s subjective) who, around Christmas the previous year, had been in a bike accident at the same time Kate needed an emergency heart transplant. So, Tom’s heart is Kate’s heart and, with his metaphysical help, she learns how to make her life worth living.
You may be thinking that such a predictable movie using Christmas in London as a backdrop couldn’t possibly be decent, but I’m here to tell you that it was! Let’s remember who’s responsible for it, after all: Clarke and Golding are brilliant actors, so of course they weren’t going to do bad work. Sure, Clarke was formidable as Daenerys Targaryen, and this role couldn’t have been further from that, but the fact that she made such a menacing Mother of Dragons in the first place just speaks to her skill as an actress -- she’s good, you guys! Plus, her performance in “Me Before You” really should have tipped you all off. As for Golding, did you even see “Crazy Rich Asians”? Case in point.
And while the film at first glance seems like it’ll be a cheesy rom-com, it actually...wasn’t? The romance between Kate and Tom wasn’t the point of the story; the romance between Michelle Yeoh’s character and her cheeky salt-and-peppered Englishman wasn’t even the point of the story. The rom-com tropes simply weren’t present: There wasn’t really a meet-cute (Tom is just loitering outside Kate’s place of work); no one had a job like “junior architect” or “culture editor” (Kate is a Christmas shop elf); there were no best friend sidekicks offering unsolicited advice. It was a full-bodied film that didn’t rely on the obvious.
Thompson, who wrote the story and screenplay, didn’t shock anyone with her “twist,” but she wowed in other areas. For one, while the film was set in London and the main characters spoke in classic English accents, Kate’s family came from the former Yugoslavia (hence “Katarina”). This seemingly small detail opens up a number of opportunities to modernize the film, taking it beyond the charming holiday film characterization and lightly commenting on the current state of the world. Thompson’s role as Kate’s mother, for example, offers a glimpse into how former refugees still fear extradition -- Petra keeps up with the Brexit drama, expecting the family to get kicked out any day.
That, and Kate’s sister Marta is dating an African American woman. A biracial, same-sex relationship -- in a Christmas rom-com?! Yeah, Thompson did that, and took it one step further with a “lesbian pudding” comment that I’ll make you watch the film to get more context on. The extra backstory and detail was refreshing, to say the least.
No, you won’t be caught off guard by the storyline of “Last Christmas,” but you might be pleasantly surprised by the way it somehow feels as comfortable and familiar as “Love Actually,” with its carols and warmth, while forging confidently beyond the status quo.