‘Tis the season for an abundance of cheesy, feel-good holiday movies to flood your screens, and what better way to start than with a brand new one in theaters? It may only be the beginning of November, but “Last Christmas” is already here to kick off the holiday season and do its best to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
The trailer looks like a romantic comedy straight out of 2004, complete with an over-romantic meet cute, corny one liners, and of course, an inspirational moral.
Unfortunately for “Last Christmas,” its trailer promises one film, but the actual movie delivers another.
What viewers actually get is a half-baked, overly cheesy feel-good movie that never has quite enough romance or comedy to live up to its holiday rom-com goal.
Kate (Emilia Clarke) is a down on her luck store clerk in London who doesn’t care about anyone other than herself. By day she works (poorly) in a year-round Christmas store, and at night she spends her time alone in bars and bouncing around from couch to couch, crashing with her few friends until she eventually overstays her welcome.
One day at work, Kate runs into Tom (Henry Golding), a charming yet somewhat creepy patron who develops a peculiar interest in her. After quickly turning down his advances, Kate later runs into Tom again, and this time decides to hear him out. Turns out he’s not as strange as he seems, and she falls for him, Kate begins to learn how to become a better person.
It’s a fairly basic Hallmark holiday romance storyline, nothing too impressive, but what “Last Christmas” counts on is its star power to take the film to the next level.
There’s no denying Clarke and Golding are easily two of the most charming – and attractive – people in Hollywood, and that’s clearly on display in “Last Christmas.” The two have a certain charisma that makes them instantly likable and allows audiences to somehow forget they’re listening to sloppy romantic chit chat and just go along with it.
As alluring as the leading duo may be individually, they don’t work together. No matter how hard they try, and they try very hard, Clarke and Golding just don’t have any authentic chemistry together.
Instead of naturally playing off one another, the pair’s flirtation feels incredibly forced. Even one of the film’s most tender moments, a tell-all heart to heart on the apartment floor isn’t very convincing.
While part of this unbelievable relationship can be attributed to Clarke and Golding’s blatant lack of chemistry, a portion of the blame also falls on the film itself. There’s no way around it – the writing is not very strong.
Coming from a talented scribe like Emma Thompson and a director with the track record of Paul Feige, “Last Christmas” had the potential to be something special. Unfortunately, it’s pretty safe to say this one won’t be making its way onto the list of holiday essentials.
The story itself is fairly jumbled. The basics between Kate and Tom are there, but in between their tale are a number of unnecessary subplots, like the cringe-inducing romance between store owner Santa (Michelle Yeoh) and a patron, Kate’s troubled history with her family, and even a Brexit-inspired statement concerning immigration.
On top of the inconsistent storytelling, the dialogue is extremely bland and filled with corny one liners.
One of the biggest issues with the story is its supposed third-act “twist” in the film’s finale. Before I break it down, be prepared for spoilers after the photo.
Alright, you’ve been warned.
To be honest, it isn’t much of a spoiler, since the “twist” has been telegraphed since the film’s very first trailer. After its debut, rumors of a twist swirled across social media, but if you were expecting some sort of jaw-dropping revelation, you’ll be very disappointed.
As expected. it turns out that Tom isn’t actually real. Instead, he’s been a projection inside Kate’s head the entire time. Here’s why.
A year ago, last Christmas to be exact, Kate had an emergency heart transplant, and as fate would have it, Tom had just recently passed away on the same day. So, Kate was gifted Tom’s heart, and since then, he’s been a part of her. As he says, she was always going to get it, one way or another.
Anyone who’s ever listened to the George Michael/Wham! song “Last Christmas” that inspired the film could easily spot this “twist” coming from a mile away. The decision itself isn’t necessarily the issue, but the way Universal went about marketing the film by basically spelling it out for viewers is where things went wrong. If you truly want the reveal to be impactful, don’t announce it to the public months in advance.
As simplistic and predictable as “Last Christmas” may be, it still has a few redeeming qualities. Even if it may not be worthy of going down in rom-com or holiday history, it still gets the job done once you admit you’re ready to feel all warm and fuzzy and embrace the holiday season. Plus, it’s never a bad thing to stare at Clarke and Golding for an hour and a half.
Star Rating: 2 out of 5
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.