Film Review: The Best Thing About ‘Last Christmas’ Is The Soundtrack
Last Christmas is the rom-com equivalent of a Hallmark card. It’s shiny, familiar and generally well-intentioned, but twee and thoroughly forgettable. The film’s one point of differentiation from dozens of (much better) movies is its soundtrack. Last Christmas was inspired by Wham!’s similarly-titled hit, and features more than a dozen songs by George Michael. That alone take some of the edge off a script that is as unoriginal as it is unfunny.
First things first. The film is suitably reverential to the late pop star. Emma Thompson, co-star and screenwriter, ran the idea by George before his passing and got his blessing. And his music is woven into the story fairly seamlessly. Kate, our would-be (if she wasn’t so awful) heroine, is a mega-fan and relies on GM’s music to get through the day. Her bedroom walls are covered in his posters and, in an unnecessary prologue, she is shown belting out “Everything She Wants” as a child. Which is confusing because she’s a) in church and b) in the former Yugoslavia.
We are then introduced to a now-adult Kate, who is hot mess with a drinking problem. For reasons that are never explained, she works full time in a Christmas store and runs around London dressed as a Lady Elf. The store is run by a stern Asian lady named Santa (no, really), who meets all the usual stereotypes. The only thing saving the character from total parody is the endless charm of the great Michelle Yeoh. She deserves so much better than a role that entails hawking tasteless ornaments and romancing a sauerkraut-obsessed German.
But back to Kate. The unkind, slovenly shop assistant somehow catches the attention of a kind-hearted, devastatingly handsome stranger called Tom. In Henry Golding’s capable hands, Tom is an adorable kook with a thing for terrible people. They start an unlikely romance, which sparks the self-realization in Kate that she’s horrible and needs to work on herself. The fact that everyone is willing to forgive her for bad behavior (like outing a family member out of spite) is a little too convenient as is her sudden benevolence towards the homeless.
It’s unfair to blame Emilia Clarke for Kate’s lack of charm. The Mother of Dragons was suitably adorable in Me Before You and does the best she can with the material. Emma Thompson might have botches the script, but she steals every scene as Kate’s heavily-accented and depressive mother. However, even she is a hodgepodge of Balkan clichés. Last Christmas really sinks when it employs a painfully obvious twist. Which is affecting, but sucks all the enjoyment and goodwill from the movie.
There is a good film waiting to be made about George Michael and his incredible music. In the meantime, this is as good an excuse as any to revisit his discography. It even includes a previously unreleased song called “This is How (We Want You to Get High),” which plays over the end credits. “Last Christmas” isn’t hard to watch, it’s just unnecessarily sloppy and made me want to go home and rewatch Love Actually and The Holiday.