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Last Christmas is one for the lovers of Love, Actually

 

LAST CHRISTMAS
directed by Paul Feig

While reheated movie leftovers may be enough for some, Last Christmas misses an opportunity to cook up something original.

What more could you wish for from a Christmas movie than a screenplay by Oscar-winning Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility), directorial fizz from Bridesmaids’ Paul Feig and the songs of George Michael?

Add to this the megawatt smile of Emilia Clarke (who had already successfully shaken off the heavy armour of Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen with romantic drama Me Before You) and Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding and presumably somebody thought they would have box-office gold.

All I got from this Last Christmas was one laugh-out-loud, two great uses of song, three dollops of casual racism and then, admittedly, an unexpected emotional suckerpunch. But a delicious trifle doesn’t make up for a dry turkey.

Another week, another film about a twentysomething female who boozes and klutzes her way through her messy life. Katerina (Clarke), daughter of immigrants who fled Croatia two decades ago, has long since morphed into a very English “Kate”, who rejects the affections of her overbearing mother (Thompson herself, rather funny). Kate works as an elf at a Christmas shop in Covent Garden, in that imaginary London only seen in Richard Curtis films. One day she meets cute with a handsome stranger (Golding), who quickly beguiles her into seeing life more positively.

In tone and pace, the whole thing reeks of Love, Actually, which may be enough of a selling point to attract its target market. There’s nice chemistry between Clarke and Golding, with both displaying more range than we’ve seen before. But the Feig touch (he who championed women headlining such feisty comedies as Ghostbusters and The Heat) is entirely missing.

The only thing subversive in this story is just how Thompson managed to pack so many thinly veiled slurs into one cringeworthy script. The supporting characters are pleasingly diverse, but there are awkward laughs at the expense of Asians, Croatians and, like something out of the 1980s, even the homeless. The fact that an old episode of Blackadder is playing on the telly in one scene is perhaps revealing of when Thompson’s humour stopped evolving.

Marketed as a film “inspired by the music of George Michael”, this Christmas flick isn’t a jukebox musical in the vein of Blinded by the Light or Yesterday (which was written Curtis). Instead, Michael’s tunes merely pepper the soundtrack, and our heroine expresses her unconvincing fandom. This isn’t necessarily a downside, but it serves as fair warning.

Am I being a grinch? Perhaps for those whose love of Love, Actually cannot be diminished. But as a romantic comedy about personal transformation, Last Christmas wastes the opportunity to cook up something witty and original, and resorts to reheating other movies’ leftovers.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★

Video: Universal Pictures NZ

This article was first published in the November 23, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.