Synopsis: Unhappy and self-destructive woman finds meaning at Christmastime.
Christmastime is the once-a-year opportunity for grinchy people to find meaning in life. They often have a helper to show them that others have it worse and that there is joy in giving. Consequently, they stop treating others like dirt and become happy. You know “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas”? When the hateful Grinch steals the Whos’ prezzies and decorations, he can’t wait to see them freaking out about stolen Christmas. But instead they gather in the center of Whoville and serenely sing a weird Christmas song with the refrain: Fah who foraze! Dah who doraze! Welcome Christmas! Anyway, when the Grinch sees their simple joy in celebrating together, his heart grows three sizes (time for a trip to the cardiologist) and he returns everything and becomes a good Grinch. And classic example, Charles Dickens’ brilliant “A Christmas Carol” wherein horrible Scrooge sees the light thanks to some Christmas Spirits.
Last Christmas takes us down this well-worn holiday lane with Emilia Clarke as Kate who unhappily works at a Christmas shop in London. She’s miserable for some reason and even hates Christmas. Part of the reason may be that she has to wear an elf costume. The movie works to get plenty of comic mileage out of her costume as she wears it all over London on her way to and from work, plodding along with a scowl on her face. The only other piece of clothing that she seems to own is a fuzzy leopard print coat that she dons to go bar hopping. Poor Kate. She is so unhappy: drinking, eating junk food and unable to recover her love of singing. As the movie begins we see her as a child, singing like an angel in a church performance in (the former) Yugoslavia. What happened between her family leaving the war-torn country and present-day to cause her to lose her zest for singing? And for life.
Enter Tom (Henry Golding). Kate and Tom meet cute outside the Christmas store. She takes an instant dislike to him because he is so cheerful. He tells her to look up and see the bird perched in the eaves. She ends up getting bird poo on her face. Of course she blames him, stomping away and telling him that he’s weird and goodbye forever! Only he keeps showing up, relentlessly upbeat. He does manage to get Kate to agree to long jaunts around the city. He explains to her that his philosophy in life is to ‘Look Up’ and be ever the optimist. When Tom is not wandering the streets of London, he volunteers at a homeless shelter. Of course. Kate is committed to her cynicism and resists Tom’s saintly charms.
Kate is somewhat homeless, but not in the way the people at the shelter are homeless. No, she just would rather couch surf than live with her irritating mother, played by Emma Thompson. Her mum is always scolding her and annoying her. Emma is a fine actress, but here her performance is close to caricature. Sort of how the dad was in My Big Fat Greek Wedding— the character is their foreignness and we are encouraged to laugh at their misunderstandings. On the other hand, Ms. Thompson, who wrote the screenplay with Byrony Kimmings (based on a story idea by Emma and husband Greg Wise), takes care to remind the audience of the plight of immigrants. Although the sentiments can feel a bit wedged in, as when Kate comforts a couple on the bus after some eejit announces that they and any other foreigners need to go back to where they came from.
As Kate spends more time with Tom, flitting about the city, she begins to thaw– maybe there is something to his positive attitude. I began to wonder if Tom himself was homeless. The closest thing he seems to have to a place to live is the park bench where Kate sometime meets him. Anyway, Kate does seem to be getting a bit nicer… playing cupid for her boss, “Santa.” (Nice to see Michelle Yeoh as the boss, but her talents are wasted here.) Santa’s Romeo loves Christmas and can barely manage to communicate with his Juliet because he is so in awe of her. And because his English is poor.
Kate also begins to volunteer at the homeless shelter. But we never see Tom there. Hmm, mysterious. Is he a liar? Who cares, he’s cute and perfect. His character is straight woman fantasy fulfillment; he is the Devoted Dream Boy.
The Devoted Dream Boy often falls nearly instantly for the female protagonist, in spite of knowing nothing about her. Perfect example of Devoted Dream Boy is the prince (James Marsden) in Enchanted who meets his princess (Amy Adams) and after learning her name shouts: Giselle! We shall be married in the morning!
The Devoted Dream Boy also doesn’t ever get annoyed with his girl, even if she mistreats him or is unfair, because he knows she has a heart of gold. In Crazy Rich Asians, when the girlfriend gets angry at her boyfriend for things out of his control (like his jealous ex and just how rich he is), he apologizes, soothes and professes his undying love. In fact, the Devoted Dream Boy in Crazy Rich Asians is also Henry Golding! I see typecasting in his future.
So anyway, Kate’s Devoted Dream Boy finally–FINALLY– invites her to his small, but impeccable apartment. Well, that’s one mystery solved; he’s not homeless. They cuddle and Kate explores her reasons for cynicism and why she doesn’t take care of her health. Suggesting that she doesn’t feel she deserves happiness, Tom assures her that no one could deserve happiness more. Tom doesn’t say much about himself and Kate doesn’t ask. Devoted Dream Boys just like to listen. Finally things get romantic when Tom and Kate kiss. And it’s about time because up until this point it’s seemed liked a fauxmance — he adores her and believes in her, but does he want her, like sexually? He assures her that he isn’t gay. When she wants to get sexier together he just looks at her sadly. But with longing. Mysterious…aha! I believe that he has erectile dysfunction and can’t bring himself to tell her. It’s nothing to be ashamed of for a man of any age! Although I get that all of the adverts show silver fox men slow dancing with their sexy mature wives. Tom tells Kate she should get some sleep.
Tom has worked his magic. Soon Kate is making amends to all of the people she’s wronged, sort of like a Selfish Persons Anonymous atonement. And after about a week of volunteering at the homeless shelter, she seems to be running the place. And remember, it’s a comedy, so don’t expect to be seeing any depressed or stressed clients. No, they come across as wacky and fun-loving. Nothing like utter destitution to make a person wake up and enjoy life.
So, will Devoted Dream Boy’s desire for Kate to see all the beauty and goodness in the world–or at least London– take? Will Kate’s possible fauxmance turn into a proper romance complete with at least some PG-13 sex scenes?
Okay, there is a bit of bait and switch in this holiday movie. Suffice to say it’s kind of like a chocolate candy that’s got a bit of a sour filling. But it is still uplifting… I guess. And if you have a craving to see a Christmas-y movie at the theaters, it’s the only game in town right now. Unless you consider Terminator: Dark Fate a holiday movie.
P.S. Last Christmas is also the title of a song that the late George Michael sang back when he was in Wham! The movie features the tune and several other George Michael songs. I suppose it’s a treat for his fans. I suspect the adverts that trumpet “FEATURING THE MUSIC OF GEORGE MICHAEL!!!!” come off as quite “meh” overselling to others.
P.P.S. The ending needs to be discussed– so if you don’t plan on seeing the movie or want to “discuss” it after you see Last Christmas, check out ***SPOILER ALERT*** at end of review.
Movie Loon Movie Review Shortcut
Cut to the Chase: This movie won’t be becoming a holiday classic. But if you feel like getting off the couch from watching Hallmark Channel X-mas shows, go for it.
Humor Highlight: Some of Kate’s one-liners penned by Emma Thompson & Bryony Kimmings and charmingly delivered by Emilia Clarke.
***SPOILER ALERT*** ENDING…..
I alluded to a bait and switch… Last Christmas is billed as a rom com, and it can claim the comedy part, but not the romance… it’s more of a fauxmance where we learn why Tom can’t have a love affair…It’s because he is a ghost. That’s right, a frickin’ ghost.
You see, Kate was a heart transplant recipient last Christmas. And Tom was the donor. It is such a stupid, stupid ending.
When Kate figures it out, she feels faint but then Tom Ghost says goodbye to her and she gets right back to planning a kickass Christmas pageant at the shelter. Tom would have wanted that. And now she’s taking care of her and his heart.
Blech! I reject your sour ending to a syrupy holiday movie.