LAST CHRISTMAS movie poster | ©2019 Universal Pictures

LAST CHRISTMAS movie poster | ©2019 Universal Pictures

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson, Boris Isakovic, Lydia Leonard, Peter Mygind, Laura Evelyn, Ingrid Oliver, Jade Anouka
Writers: Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings, story by Emma Thompson & Greg Wise
Director: Paul Feig
Distributor: Universal
Release Date: November 8, 2019

How much one will enjoy LAST CHRISTMAS will have a lot to do with how much one likes London, Emilia Clarke, George Michael, and TV-type Christmas fare, not necessarily in that order. Paul Feig directs from a script by Emma Thompson (who also costars) and Bryony Kimmings, from a story by Thompson & Greg Wise. While it can’t be determined by the final results, LAST CHRISTMAS feels a bit like it started as one thing, tried to turn into another, and wound up somewhere in the middle with both narrative and quality.

LAST CHRISTMAS is very pretty in terms of its scenery and its people. Clarke stars as Kate, whose family immigrated to England from the former Yugoslavia when she was still a child. Kate is an aspiring singer/actress who is currently employed as the elf/sales clerk at a year-round Christmas decorations shop, run by a woman who calls herself Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Kate is clumsy, not so much mean-spirited or critical as simply self-absorbed. She’s also inclined to drink too much. We gradually learn that Kate’s personality has taken a turn for the darker since she recovered from a serious illness that we learn about in stages.

Handsome stranger Tom (Henry Golding) comes to the shop and wants Kate to go for a walk with him. At first, Kate resists (even though she’s not averse to going home from bars with complete strangers), but then succumbs to Tom’s charms. Tom is a bit odd. For one thing, he leaves his phone at home and claims he never uses it. This makes him completely attentive when he and Kate are together, but impossible to reach when they’re not.

At the same time, Kate is having family issues. Her mom (Thompson) frets about Kate’s health and tends to say the wrong thing, Kate’s sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) is brimming with sibling resentment, and Dad (Boris Isakovic) spends so much time as a cab driver that he almost never sees anybody.

There’s a big plot twist that, judging from public reaction, many people have guessed from the trailer. It won’t be spoiled here, but it makes LAST CHRISTMAS more lightweight than the filmmakers seem to want it to be. They’re pretty serious about how Brexit is scaring folks and emboldening racists, and they also tackle homelessness in a compassionate if maybe overly picturesque way.

Christmas in London is gorgeous, and almost irresistible. After all, it figures into centuries-spanning lore, from Shakespeare to A CHRISTMAS CAROL to HARRY POTTER. There’s something familiar and endearing about it, even for those who’ve only seen it on screen. The Christmas store where Kate works is an absolute hoot. Thompson is clearly having a blast playing a very different sort of person than she usually does. It’s also a pleasure to see Yeoh as someone with a giggly side that comes out when her character embarks on her own love story.

Speaking of love stories, while Clarke is beautiful, warm and vulnerable – we believe she does care for the people in her life, even if she messes things up for them – we never buy that Kate and Tom are soul mates. Their scenes together are enjoyable, but we never feel a sense of urgency. The relationship is lopsided, with Tom focusing on Kate’s persona and trying to help her open up, while Kate can’t get Tom to open up enough to really get to know him. We wind up feeling like we’re watching an episodic streaming series, one that can be silly and sad at the same time, rather than a feature film where what we’re seeing is meant to be the most important juncture of someone’s life.

There’s also a lot of the George Michael song “Last Christmas,” as sung by him and covered by others, in LAST CHRISTMAS. A little of this may go further than intended for some viewers.

LAST CHRISTMAS winds up being simply okay. It may not satisfy as a romance, but it’s got all the Christmas decorations you’ll need to see for the season.

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