Last Christmas

Directed By Paul Feig

Starring – Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson

The Plot – Kate (Clarke) is a young woman subscribed to bad decisions. Her last date with disaster? That of having accepted to work as Santa’s elf for a department store. However, she meets Tom (Golding) there. Her life takes a new turn. For Kate, it seems too good to be true.

Rated PG-13 for adult language and sexual content

POSITIVES

– Dark humor. For the first half of the movie, we are treated to the charming essence of Feig’s off-beat brand of laughs and visual sight gags that help the audience grow and invest in these characters, especially Kate in that her vulnerability towards humiliation is her greatest quality. For the majority of intended deliveries, I enjoyed a consistent helping of hearty laughter, that lured me right into the holiday setting and all of its strange, quirky characters. It proves that the film does have a vibrancy in personality that makes this anything other than the tacky Christmas or romance narratives, and instead grounds its reality in the awkwardness of the season that is every bit boisterous as it is testing.

– Likeable cast. Thompson has always been a national treasure to me, and even donning a Russian accent here, she still maintains the level of timely delivery and on-screen charisma that has made her a commanding presence for over four decades of film. Aside from her, the chemistry of Clarke and Golding is off of the charts, subtly developing their blossoming relationship, all the while preserving what’s so enveloping about the duo as leading stars. For Clarke, it’s easily her warm, bright smile, but it’s the infectious energy that she maintains in the role, even through some dramatic depths in material that prove she’s anything but one-note. For Golding, it’s more of the Tinsletown leading man suave that is a rarity in today’s movie landscape, but one that easily distinguishes him from his competition. Both of these leads have fun in their respective roles, all the while providing us with a relationship that is easy to get behind from an audience perspective.

– Soulful soundtrack. Being that this is a movie based on the music of George Michael, it would be difficult to screw this aspect up, and thankfully the production doesn’t waste away this opportunity. It’s important to note that it isn’t a song every couple of minutes, and instead it’s the cleverness of Feig to work it in topically when he sees fit, giving the song a newfound life through the eyes of a different situation that at least lyrically resonates. “Last Christmas” is obviously the focal point here, but non-Christmas classics like “Faith”, “Freedom”, “Heal the Pain”, and even “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” are dispersed in a way that provide a pleasant energy to the film that accentuates the entrancing visuals of England. Aside from this, Clarke herself is given the microphone a couple of times throughout the film to actually perform some of the catalog from her character’s favorite singer, and does a masterful job in doing justice to Michael’s ranging falsetto.

– Small details. I love a set design that the camera can allow us to immerse in, solidifying the lived-in quality that comes within the specifics of one’s geographical setting. In this regard, it’s specifically the year-round Christmas shop that Clarke’s character works in that dazzled me with rare product that I am sure will become a staple of real life retail once this film is seen by more opportunist eyes. There’s plenty of examples mentioned and shown by characters who present the miniature statues front-and-center, but it’s the stuff that is barely shown just over the shoulder of a character in frame that really impressed me, and presented plenty of inner-world Easter Eggs to prove that the production spared no expense in bringing its world and ideals to life. If nothing else, the visual appeal of the film will get you prepared for Christmas, and give a fruitful example of marketing in its most extreme of all stages.

– Unique wardrobe. This is primarily towards Clarke’s character, whose color and style coordination reflects that of an alcoholic with little time for anything other than the bottle, except maybe sleep. Her work uniform has her in a green elf costume, complete with cute elf shoes, all of which seemed perfect for Emilia’s brand of irresistible spunk. Her casual attire features leopard skinned coat, multi-layered dresses underneath, all supplanted by grey stockings, which are every bit a staple of the character as the very bottles she clinks through. It’s not overly spectacular in its pageantry, but does the job in colorfully illustrating the personality and demeanor of someone so dispirited with the season.

NEGATIVES

– Theme overload. This is really only a factor during the disastrous third act, which so many of my negatives resonate in. For this particular problem, it’s the need to incorporate racism, gay prejudice, and even an unfolding social war in Yugoslavia into the mix, with such little effetiveness or direction to make it articulately pop with the pre-established Christmas theme that the entire film until that point was preaching. None of these themes are ever given even remotely satisfying resolution, nor the kind of clarity that hammers home a positively earnest message to send audiences home on. Instead, it mentions them once or twice, and then never follows through on cementing its necessary intention. The film is only 97 minutes long, but if you cut these pointless exercises for this particular film, you would have a tighter more cohesive direction that remains focused all the way to the finish line.

– Improv comedy. I mentioned earlier that the humor, particularly during the film’s first half, is one of the more stronger suits that the film preserves itself into earning the attention of its audience. For a majority, I was delighted into it, but occasionally there is that hint of pretentious Feig that sets in, giving unimportant extras the chance to hone their craft at the screeching halt of storytelling progression. If this is done once or twice, fine, no problem, but the need to incorporate two bumbling female cops, two homeless shelter characters who only serve a purpose to advance the mystery between the romantic leads, and a barrage of Kate’s family and friends, makes this unbearable. Every time these characters popped up on camera, I cringed knowing where the scene was headed, and I was right every single time. More cutting that could be used for positivity.

– Melodrama overload. I expect this kind of thing in a romantic Christmas movie, but the way it transitions with its overbearing third act took away much of what I enjoyed about the movie in the first place. Mainly it’s the complete removal of comedy that comes once Kate reveals some near-death troubles from her past that allows Tom to see her in a different light. The heavy handed nature of its evolution feels so far removed from the enjoyable film we once were receiving, in favor of a conventional third act conflict that sours when it should be sweet. It’s working with emotionally moving material and performances, but the film’s designated majority genre keeps it from ever properly attaining the tears that it calls on the audience so abruptly to disperse. If Feig directed the first two acts of the movie, Nicholas Sparks directed the third.

– Detestable twist. I expected something similar to this when I was watching the film, based on the awkward exposition of one of its characters, but what it amounted to couldn’t have been the intended ending meant to send audiences home happy with the result they were just given. This twist is so absurdly rendered, with a complete lack of logic in the rules of the consequence that it almost succeeds at being a science fiction movie. On top of all of this, it takes the song “Last Christmas” by George Michael, and attacks it with such a lyrical dissection in deconstructing it as something completely unintended. An example would be taking a song like “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, and making a film inspired by it, that revolves around a sand salesman. The last time a melodrama pissed me off this terribly was after “Collateral Beauty”, and at least with that film there was very little about it that I actually enjoyed. “Last Christmas” was close in succeeding, but the very next day, it gave it away. See? I can be clever too.

– Stretched ending. This is becoming a staple in Hollywood cinema, as this film as well doesn’t know the proper ending that it was trying for, so therefore will include them all in the film’s final ten minutes. For my money, I would’ve never included a Shelter ball, or a scene in the springtime that follows it. Yes, that’s right, the film’s ending is so long that it starts in Winter, and ends in Spring. How’s that for procrastination?

My Grade: 5/10 or D

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