Down-on-her-luck Kate (Emilia Clarke) is lost, bitter and aimless after recovering from a serious operation the year prior. When she meets the charming and mysterious Tom (Henry Golding), however, she soon finds herself seeking redemption after his outlook on life inspires her to change. Little does she know however, that Tom hides a secret that could change their relationship completely.
This might read like an easy Christmas analogy, but I genuinely can’t find a better way to explain the experience of watching Last Christmas than this: it is like eating an entire tin of Quality Street. You first get through all your favourites, merrily eating away at the sweet familiars you indulge in each year. Eventually, however, as we are often one to do in the cosset of Christmas, you keep eating. You’ve had all your favourite ones by now, but for some reason, still go for those remaining orange cremes and coconut bites, even though you don’t really like them. They don’t go down as easily as the rest but you’re eating them anyway, and by the end, you’ve eaten the whole tin. You feel sickly and confused, not sure why you carried on eating, other than “it’s Christmas”. The same can be said for this movie, as for the first two acts, it is as pleasant as a box of chocolates at the end of a busy Christmas day. Sweet and simple. The third act of Last Christmas, however, much like eating the whole tin, takes a sudden turn into something that, while familiar, is perhaps is a bit too much, a bit too indulgent. It leaves you sugar-rushed, questioning whether it was really just bad from the start, because chocolate isn’t good for you anyway, but damn if you didn’t like it to begin with.
This isn’t anything new for Last Christmas director Paul Feig, who has come far from the relatively grounded Bridesmaids to the downright baffling, bizarrely watchable A Simple Favour last year. Perhaps this eclectic blend of plots and knowing corniness allured him to the project – Last Christmas somehow clashes a George Michael and Wham! infused soundtrack with an eclectic sense of sometimes irreverent, sometimes corny humour, along with plot lines like personal redemption, the plight of immigrants, Brexit, a budding young romance, the difficulties of post-operation recovery, and an It’s a Wonderful Life-style fantasy sentiment. The script, also by star and producer Emma Thompson, manages to fluffily play with each element on the back of some charming performances and a solid, gleefully cheesy tone, until it buckles under its own weight disappointingly in a sudden, baffling finale. You certainly get the idea behind its eventual twist story decision, and the sentiment is sweetly sound, but it’s hard to fully explain why it left my brain in a state of buzzing confusion without spoiling it. I just didn’t know how to emotionally respond to it; I should have seen it coming, I almost did. I just didn’t expect quite the most literal interpretation of a song lyric I have ever encountered. Perhaps that is too much of a spoiler, but perhaps that knowledge will also fill in the work necessary to making Last Christmas’ twist happen naturally, rather than the sudden collapse to the floor it comes off as.
Nonetheless, there were several reasons I desperately wanted to recommend Last Christmas, mainly for its unashamedly “Christmas movie” tone and its genuinely charming leads. For the most part, this is one of those feel-good yuletide Channel 5 films with a larger budget and established cast of actors, and I mean that comparison in the best possible way. I have to admit, I went into Last Christmas quite distracted by the stresses and difficulties that come with this time of year, and the film effortlessly made all of those concerns drift away. It is pure wintery escapism through and through, carried by an immensely endearing performance from Emilia Clarke. She is in her most delightful, funny, adorable element here, carrying the often pessimistic Kate with an amusingly wry humour and relatable sense of struggling aimlessness and worry of wasted potential. You know she has it in her to be better, and watching her path to recovery is one of the film’s main highlights. Clarke infuses some of her own recent experiences with life-threatening illness to heartfelt effect, and it is a joy to see that the actress is able to escape her often (wrongfully) stoic direction from her time on Game of Thrones, reminding us that she has one of the contemporary screen’s most emotive faces.
Watching Last Christmas at the cinema, I was seated between a group of women to the left of me, who gradually started groaning at the movie as it progressed, and my girlfriend, whose cheese threshold knows no bounds, to the right. She was smiling, laughing, at times crying, while fully aware that this was all ultimately Christmas corn. With me in the middle, I can comfortably say that is where I sit. Last Christmas could be your new pudding or turkey. For me, it is like the latter with too much cranberry. All the elements I enjoy are there, it was just spoiled at the last second with too much sickly sauce.
All this said, though, I’m definitely sticking it on for Christmas next year.
Author: Tom, Chelsea store