Movie Guru: ‘Last Christmas’ with Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding will satisfy your Christmas movie fix
Rated PG-13 for language and sexual content
Story by Emma Thompson and Greg Wise
Screenplay by Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings
Directed by Paul Feig
Starring Emma Thompson, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding, Lydia Leonard, Boris Isakovic and more
Grade: Three and a half stars out of four
The season for emotional Christmas movies is officially upon us, even though it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.
Hollywood’s first entry is “Last Christmas,” opening this weekend. Co-written by actress Emma Thompson, the movie feels like an exceptionally well-made Hallmark or Lifetime Christmas movie that somehow found its way to the big screen. If you enjoy heartwarming holiday movies that require a box of tissues, then you won’t want to miss it.
The movie follows Kate (Emilia Clarke, “Game of Thrones”), a young woman who has seemingly made a disaster of every part of her life. Her singing career is a bust, she drinks all the time, she’s avoiding her family, she’s angered all her friends, and it’s amazing she hasn’t been fired from her job at a Christmas store. When she runs into a mysterious man (Henry Golding, “Crazy Rich Asians”) outside the Christmas shop, however, Kate slowly but surely begins to see her life in a different light.
Several of the people at the screening I attended had figured out the plot from clues dropped in the trailers, and even if you hadn’t, a basic familiarity with other movies in the genre will fill you in quickly enough. No one watches emotional Christmas movies to be surprised, though I was pleased to note a small but unexpected subplot about anti-immigrant sentiment. Kate’s family being immigrants from Eastern Europe, it turns out, isn’t just to give Thompson the chance to do an accent.
People practically want to be sucker-punched by emotion when they watch Christmas movies, and “Last Christmas” has that in spades. There’s family angst and catharsis of various sorts, lighthearted romantic moments, heartbreaking romantic moments, plenty of interaction with the local homeless population and even a sweet background romance between Kate’s boss (Michelle Yeoh) and her own mysterious stranger. All of it feels heartfelt rather than manipulative, and there’s plenty of humor to help it go down that much smoother.
Even better, director Paul Feig packs all that emotion into a surprisingly well-made movie. The dialogue manages to be charming rather than cheesy, the humor ranges from pleasant to delightful, and the plot never drags or belabors its point. The characters all get at least flashes of depth, and even when their decisions aren’t the best you understand why they made them. Thankfully, plot-induced stupidity was not invited to this particular Christmas party.
Clarke balances Kate’s disaster tendencies well, keeping the character endearing while making it painfully clear why everyone in her life has lost patience with her. Golding is delightful as Tom, the perfect fun-yet-deeply-sensitive guy every young girl dreams of meeting. (If Hollywood doesn’t take this as a sign to start casting him in more romances, they’re making a terrible mistake.) They’re even better together, giving the movie that sheen of romantic magic that’s such a vital ingredient to the genre.
So if you’re already itching to curl up by a Christmas fire with a box of tissues, you don’t have to wait: “Last Christmas” is here for you.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lil Smokies, formed in 2009 in Missoula, Montana, have built a strong following in Colorado.