Coming out more than a month before Kris Kringle is scheduled to make worldwide deliveries, Last Christmas is the sort of gift one can't return. Not only is the receipt missing, but there are enough charming moments to almost make up for the arid stretches between them.
Emma Thompson is the primary writer for this, and she and co-writers have come up with just enough bon mots to remind viewers that she has written more entertaining material. (Like Sense and Sensibility.) But the film becomes more lively when Thompson shows up as Croatian war refugee.
81 Cast: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson, Michelle Yeoh, Lydia Leonard, Boris Iskovic, Peter Mygind, Rob Delaney, Laura Evelyn, Ingrid Oliver
Director: Paul Feig
Rating: PG-13, for language and sexual content
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Her Petra is one of those characters Thompson has a gift for playing; though she manages to alienate her husband Ivan (Boris Isakovic) and her daughters Kate and Marta (Emilia Clarke and Lydia Leonard) with her overbearing manner, she never quite loses the audience's sympathy. Petra carries emotional scars from the Balkan wars and is understandably terrified of how anti-immigrant sentiment drove British voters to get behind Brexit.
While Thompson has written a juicy role for herself and for Michelle Yeoh as an obsessive Christmas store proprietor, her main tale feels a tad anemic. That's bad for a story where the main character is recovering from a health setback.
Kate has more concerns than simply staying healthy. She can't stay with her domineering mother, and she has managed to upset all her friends. So, between her shifts at a Christmas store, she wanders London with her suitcase in tow.
Her expression and her demeanor start to change when an odd but presentable young man named Tom (Henry Golding) starts hanging around the store. He shows up just about anywhere Kate goes, including failed singing auditions and forced exits from her friends' flats. He encourages her to be more optimistic and takes her to stretches of her London neighborhood where she has never set foot.
Tom is charming company, but he shows up unannounced and disappears without warning, and unlike other Londoners, he gleefully leaves his phone behind so he's impossible to reach.
Thompson and her cohorts manage to coax a serviceable premise from the old Wham! chestnut "Last Christmas," even if the revelation isn't all that original. It's pleasant to watch Clarke and Golding stare at each other affectionately, but it's infinitely more fun to hear Thompson or Yeoh give her the third degree. It is mildly touching to watch Kate learn to be a better person, but it's so much more entertaining to hear Thompson berating the people she loves.
With her long resume, including turns as a Bond girl and as a Star Trek alumna, it's easy to forget that Yeoh once regularly held her own against a comic mastermind like Jackie Chan. She can be hysterically funny, but few filmmakers ask her to be. Pairing her with unbelievably tacky Yuletide merchandise is an inspired touch.
Director Paul Feig shoehorns other George Michael and Wham! tunes and makes the U.K. capital look suitably festive, even if part of the film takes place in a homeless shelter.
With the Cockney slang and profanity, it's easy to see why this didn't become a Hallmark Channel offering. Perhaps if Thompson, Feig and company had given Last Christmas more of a winter chill or biting wit, it might have had a more welcome place under the Christmas tree.
Maybe a few more George Michael songs would have helped.
MovieStyle on 11/08/2019