Last Christmas doesn’t have quite enough romance to be considered a true rom-com, but it's filled with a charming, heartwarming holiday spirit.
Recent years have seen a revival of not only romantic comedies in general, with the genre making a return to the theaters in a big way, but rom-coms set during the holiday season. Hallmark, Lifetime and Netflix listened to viewers demanding more Christmas-themed rom-coms on the small screen, but with the theatrical release of Last Christmas, this specific genre makes the leap back to the big screen. However, Last Christmas isn't a typical rom-com, though it does rest on the shoulders of its two leads, Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) and Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians). Last Christmas doesn’t have quite enough romance to be considered a true rom-com, but it's filled with a charming, heartwarming holiday spirit.
In Last Christmas, Clarke stars as the selfish and self-destructive Kate, an aspiring singer who hasn't been the same since falling ill the previous year. Though she works year-round at a Christmas shop run by Santa (Michelle Yeoh), Kate is anything but filled with the holiday spirit as she does everything she can to avoid her family, particularly her mother Adelia (Emma Thompson). When Kate meets Tom (Golding), her life begins to change. The delightfully weird man continues to pop into her life at random moments and Kate finds herself drawn to him and his philosophies about life. But as Kate starts to fall for Tom, she realizes that a relationship with him might not fit in with the new life she's beginning to build.
Last Christmas is directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) from a script by Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility) and newcomer Bryony Kimmings based on a story by Thompson and her husband Greg Wise. For the most part, Last Christmas tells a compelling tale about trauma and the sometimes messy path a person takes to heal and move forward with their life, all wrapped in the timeless schmaltz of a Christmas movie. As a result, Last Christmas isn't a typical romantic comedy, though it does sometimes veer into that territory (and it was, perhaps unwisely, marketed as such). Instead, the film is more of a dramedy with a romantic subplot. And, like Kate's life at the beginning of the movie, Last Christmas makes some messy choices, incorporating certain story beats that are introduced then forgotten though they're seemingly meant to serve Kate's arc. But rather than give Last Christmas any depth, they come across as haphazard inclusions that detract from the main story rather than add to it.
That said, the success of Last Christmas truly rests on the shoulders of its cast, and Golding and Clarke have charisma to spare as their offbeat characters. Clarke excellently pulls off a character who, on the page, might seem unlikable, bringing plenty of charm to her role as Kate. Clarke also works well alongside Golding, who broke out last summer in the rom-com Crazy Rich Asians. Last Christmas gives Golding a chance to play an atypical leading man, who's more manic pixie dream guy than anything else. To Last Christmas's credit, it's incredibly fun to watch Golding be goofy and Clarke be cynical, though the film might ultimately leave viewers wanting more of their dynamic. As for the supporting cast, Yeoh has a scene-stealing turn as Kate's boss Santa, though not all of her storyline lands in the way it's presumably meant to and comes off weirdly awkward. Still, Last Christmas is Clarke and Golding's movie, and they carry it well - with the exception of a few lines of dialogue that are too melodramatic for any actor to pull off.
Ultimately, Last Christmas delivers on the promise of being a heartfelt holiday movie, but it isn't the rom-com moviegoers may be expecting. What the film may lack in romance, though, it makes up for with an engaging story about the difficulty of healing from trauma. Like Kate, Last Christmas is a little messy, but that's all part of its charm. And, to be sure, Last Christmas is undoubtedly charming, though a little offbeat in the way that many Feig films are. It tells a story about complicated women, like many of Feig's movies, offering up compelling characters unlike any others in Hollywood. And like Feig's previous work, Last Christmas is thoroughly entertaining, even as it veers into more bizarre territory.
As such, fans of Feig's filmography and Christmas movies will be won over by the sweet sentimentality and weird humor in Last Christmas. The movie sometimes falls over the line into too much schmaltz, back-peddling into the cliché when so much of Last Christmas feels like a breath of fresh air. However, moviegoers shouldn't go into Last Christmas expecting a typical Christmas rom-com (akin to the comfortingly cheesy fare produced by Hallmark and its ilk), because that isn't what this movie sets out to be. Still, Last Christmas is delightfully heartwarming and sweetly entertaining when at its best.
Last Christmas is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 102 minutes long and rated PG-13 for language and sexual content.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!
- Last Christmas (2019) release date: Nov 08, 2019