By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
I really love and hate what they are doing with movie trailers these days. Gone are the days when movie trailers basically gave you an accurate idea of what a movie is about, replaced by these two-minute light shows of cobbled-together scenes that make you think stuff like, oh, cool, another Christmas movie about a manic mess of a woman who can’t get her sh*t together even though she’s super white and super attractive.
So “Last Christmas” is kind of about that —but also had a surprising bit more depth! It’s directed by one of my faves, Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids,” “Spy,” “Ghostbusters”), and was co-written by one of my ultimates, two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson, who also acts in the film—both of whom imbued what is typically a saccharine genre of movies with offbeat, genuinely funny moments . . . and some dark sadness.
If you think that’s a weird tone for a rom-com Christmas movie—dude, you are right. “Last Christmas” is a little bonkers.
“Last Christmas” stars Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones,” Mother of Dragons) and Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians”). Clarke’s character Kate is a mess of a human being who is a wannabe singer who works at a year-round Christmas store. She drinks a lot. She sleeps around with strange men she barely knows. Her eyeliner gets smeared a lot. She keeps showing up late to work and her boss doesn’t fire her, which I think is crazy. And she carries with her, this pervasive sense of sadness.
Golding’s character is her love interest. Tom is straight up really annoying at the beginning of the movie. He’s hyper and excessively positive. He does obnoxiously quirky stuff like tell our girl to constantly “look up” because she doesn’t know what she’s missing from her life unless she opens her eyes and takes a look around.
Over the course of the movie, they fall in love and, due to Tom’s influence, Kate starts making healthy and positive changes in her life.
Rounding out the cast is Thompson as Kate’s mom Petra, who is a refugee and immigrant from Yugoslavia, and Michelle Yeoh as “Santa” (not even her real name in the movie; it’s a gimmick name because her real Chinese name is hard to pronounce).
The strength of “Last Christmas” lies in its charming leads, especially Clarke who spends the entire movie skirting awfully close to the edge of melodramatic trope, but magically stops herself from crossing the line. Ultimately, she comes across as charming and interesting enough. I look forward to seeing her in more starring roles.
Golding is pretty dashing—and like I said, it was super annoying at the beginning. But he wore me down as the movie progressed, and I think it’s because he’s charismatic and fun to watch.
The love story that unfolds over the course of the movie is one that is fairly quiet and restrained.
It’s not a love story with epic public confessions and declarations —and that feels very Feig-ian.
There’s also a plot twist that comes with the final act. I can’t tell you about it because I don’t want to be a jerk, but it’s an important plot twist—and how you feel about this twist will be the difference between you totally hating and disregarding this movie —or leaving the theater going, “That was alright!”
The weak points in this film is the uneven tone and its flat politicizing. “Last Christmas” is a strangely sad movie—sad enough that I think it will prevent people from repeatedly rewatching it, which is a bizarre filmmaking choice because I feel like the goal with Christmas movies is making them deeply rewatchable. “Last Christmas” initially has some “Love Actually” vibes due to its English setting and cast—but it ultimately shoots itself in the face with the narrative decisions that play out onscreen.
The Petra character and the immigrant-refugee identity she represents is both interesting and a little one-dimensional. They push liberal pontificating on Brexit in this movie, man. And I’m not saying, hey, never ever talk about the intersection of Brexit and immigration in movies. I’m more saying, it’s weird to do it in a Christmas movie that is also a love story.
The treatment feels artificially heavy-handed and white-guilt-y and white-self-righteous and white-people-problems-y.
Another weak point for me (don’t hate me for saying this!) is Michelle Yeoh’s character, Santa, who is Kate’s boss. Santa is a fussy Chinese lady who is blunt and hard on the outside, but who is also secretly soft on the inside. I dunno if it’s the dialogue or the direction or if it’s maybe that Yeoh is not a great comedy actor (yet!?), but I found Santa to be a hollow character that is just a stereotype of a cranky Chinese lady— rather than an actual believable human being.
I talked to my friends who watched this movie, and they all really liked Santa though, so what do I know! (I feel so bad over not being impressed with Yeoh!)
For those who go to the movies just a few times a year, I say skip “Last Christmas” in theaters and wait for it to be streamable or rentable. For those who have money to burn and go to see movies all the time and don’t need to watch award-winners all the time and are fans of George Michael, dude, try “Last Christmas.” There are a lot of George Michael songs in it.
Stacy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.