Emilia Clarke plus Paul Feig and George Michael should be rom-com gold, but critics have are not impressed by Last Christmas. It's the most wonderful time of the year, or, at the very least, it's time for seasonal entertainment to dominate the pop culture landscape. Love, Actually remains a major hit every Christmas with audiences, and there’s always a gap in the market for a good festive romantic-comedy. This time around, the story comes to us via British artist Bryony Kimmings and the legendary Emma Thompson. The latter also stars in and produces Last Christmas, with Paul Feig of Bridesmaids fame directing and the central romance played out by Emilia Clarke (her first big post-Game of Thrones role) and Henry Golding, who made a major splash last year in Crazy Rich Asians.
Clarke plays Kate, a perpetual screw-up recovering from a chronic illness while her life is on the verge of falling apart. She takes a job in a kitschy year-round Christmas store run by "Santa" (Michelle Yeoh) and meets the dashing Tom (Golding). He seems perfect for her and magically turns up when she needs him most, but then he disappears without a word.
That's a great mixture of talent for a festive rom-com and it's always a delight to see the genre making a comeback in theaters. However, Last Christmas hasn't exactly delighted critics. Currently, the film has a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with reviews noting the distinct lack of laughs, the overtly cheesy but not especially self-aware narrative, and a highly predictable twist that was more ludicrous than heart-warming. Here's what a few critics had to say in their negative write-ups of Last Christmas.
"And yet, what’s inside this gift box feels curiously joyless for what looks to be a foolproof recipe on paper—“Last Christmas” only succeeds in reminding you pre-Thanksgiving that soon it will be holiday shopping time, rejoice!"
“Even if you haven’t paid attention to the slight internet chatter around Last Christmas, you can sense some sort of big reveal is looming on the horizon [...] When your worst fears are confirmed — and then doubled down on — it doesn’t cause your heart to go pitter-patter so much as make your blood boil with rage. The are-you-serious turn that the film treats as deep is admittedly on-brand, however. This is the kind of movie that also mistakes obvious and cloying for clever, ham-fisted for subtle, and merely stringing together George Michael tunes as some sort of homage.”
"Those drawn to “Last Christmas” by the infectious lilt of the Wham! classic and the appeal of seeing Clarke newly freed from “Game of Thrones” will encounter a holiday fable that slyly inverts many of the usual trappings of the romantic comedy — so much so that’s it’s neither particularly funny nor especially romantic."
"Last Christmas counts on our absorbing the sugary sound of Michael’s music but none of its substance. This is perhaps the film’s fatal flaw, and it’s not unrelated to its evasiveness regarding Kate’s origins and its simplistic affirmation of liberal outrage at Brexit. There’s a lack of concreteness about the story and characters—true from the beginning, but particularly after its last-act reveal—that render its reiteration of Christmas lessons utterly toothless."
"It’s not so much that Christmas is less than the sum of its parts, exactly, as that it actually seems to want to be bad — a sort of Hallmark Movie deluxe, complete with random starry cameos (Patti LuPone, Catastrophe’s Rob Delaney) and a supernatural twist so ludicrous it may actually make you want to punch a reindeer."
"The combination of Michael’s music, a cosy festive aesthetic, picturesque London scenery and an irresistible fascination over what the plot morphs into does make Last Christmas sort of digestible in a half-watching-while-drunk-on-eggnog kind of way but this really is a clunky, charmless disappointment. Last Christmas is, or at least should be, cancelled."
"It's a very nice movie, chipper and sweet and homey while still pitched with a modern sensibility. But that's not enough-none of those qualities resonate without a richer sense of soul or purpose, of which Last Christmas is direly devoid."
"What did George Michael do to deserve this? Why should the singer-songwriter and former Wham! frontman be associated with a brutally unfunny and contrived romantic comedy when he’s no longer around to object? [...] The script might as well have been generated by an AI which had grasped the overall concept of redemptive Christmas comedies, but which had no understanding of human behavior."
However, for some critics who were happy to embrace the movie on its own highly cheesy terms, Last Christmas had its charms and an easy-going vibe that makes it solid festive entertainment. It has great guilty pleasure potential, many noted.
"But for as much as Last Christmas is overstuffed and sometimes distracted by its pieces, the whole makes for a digestible and mindfully-intended dose of goodwill. If not a great romantic comedy, it belongs in the tradition of ones where the love story is merely a vessel for a more compelling human one."
"The George Michael songs are mostly grafted around the edges rather than inserted into the plot, which was the most graceful approach to this movie. Often they're inserted in awkward or on-the-nose moments (Kate is a big fan of the singer). This isn't a jukebox musical, but more of a sonic landscape for turning self-improvement power-pop into a feature-length movie. Of course Clarke sings the title song for us, because last Christmas someone gave her their heart. Yes, it's cornball, but it still beats."
"Did I almost immediately guess the twist in Last Christmas? Yes, and you probably will too. Did it in any way hinder my enjoyment of this festive Yuletide rom-com? Hell no! The key to enjoying Last Christmas is to completely give into its schmaltzy power. Directed by Paul Feig from a script co-written by Emma Thompson and her husband, Greg Wise, with the late George Michael’s blessing, it’s a Christmas earworm in movie form — you don’t exactly want to like it, but you can’t help yourself. Don’t fight it!"
"The recipe for any British holiday movie, the type pioneered by merchants of sap like Richard Curtis, requires a fine balance of sentimentality and cynicism. Yes, the former ingredient is more crucial—the audience should exit the theater with the sickly satisfaction that comes with eating one too many cookies—but even the gooiest stories have to come with a little bite. Last Christmas is a mostly charming new comedy from two seasoned practitioners of the form, the director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and the writer Emma Thompson. Where the film succeeds, it’s because Feig and Thompson have remembered to mix in a little sour with the sweet."
Did you see Last Christmas this weekend or do you plan to? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.