The Long Plot, Sans Spoilers
Kate (Emilia Clarke) has not been making the most mature decisions in her life, which has left her estranged from both family and friends.
She works as a shop elf at Yuletide Wonderful, a year-round Christmas-themed store full of gloriously gaudy baubles and reports to her cranky boss-slash-friend Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Her performance has been underwhelming in all aspects of her life, career, love, and everything else. One day while tending to the shop, she sees an odd man through the window who's just looking up the whole time. Intrigued with his odd actions, she goes out to meet the man named Tom (Henry Golding) and gets pooped on by a bird.
While most people casually stroll along, Tom dances through the streets of London. He's positively beaming as he weaves through the city's obstacles with the greatest of ease. Kate's frequent encounters with the unusually upbeat guy gradually warms her cold, dead Christmas-hating heart. She may even be inspired enough to cease being a trashy person entirely. Maybe. But is Tom the real deal or is he some cad who's going to break her heart in the end? Kate's gotta have faith and find out for herself.
The Short, Honest Plot
Emilia Clarke struggles to take control of both her chaotic existence and extremely expressive eyebrows until a manic pixie dream guy swoops in to become her life coach. Also, "Last Christmas" plays ad nauseam!
The Actors And Where You Last Saw Them
Emilia Clarke is the mother of dragons Daenerys Targaryen from Game Of Thrones! (Bow down!) She portrayed the star-making role until the eighth and final season of the series. The actress also starred in the 2018 fantasy/sci-fi film, Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Henry Golding showed his leading man potential by playing the charming Nick Young from last year's hit romantic comedy, Crazy Rich Asians.
You may know her from the 2000 martial arts movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but she triggered wartime flashbacks of every acid-tongued Asian auntie we have ever encountered as Eleanor Young from Crazy Rich Asians.
Dame Emma Thompson portrayed a veteran talk show host in this year's comedy Late Night written by fellow multihyphenate actress Mindy Kaling. Of course, we remember her best tearing up while listening to a Joni Mitchell CD in Love Actually.
Did You Know?
1. George Michael himself requested that Emma Thompson pen the screenplay for the film based on his songs. The British artists actually met up in person several times throughout the production process. Unfortunately, the beloved popstar wasn't able to see it come to fruition on screen due to his untimely demise back in 2016.
2. Emma Thompson's husband and co-writer for the story, Greg Wise, happened upon a secret garden in Central London, which eventually became one of the choice locations for filming. Hint: The bench which features prominently in both the trailer and movie poster can be found in this spot.
3. You will have to thank Henry Golding for introducing Paul Feig, his director on A Simple Favor, to Michelle Yeoh, his Crazy Rich Asians co-star. When the Last Christmas project finally came around, Paul Feig convinced the actress to show off her comedic chops. Michelle was apprehensive at first but finally agreed because she wanted to work with both the director and Emma Thompson. (Good job repping your mom, Nick Young!)
4. Emma Thompson and her hubby wrote and edited a tie-in novel for the film entitled, Last Christmas: Memories Of Christmases Past And Hopes Of Future Ones. The book features Christmas-themed essays by actors, musicians, politicians, charity workers, and refugees to name a few.
5. According to producer David Livingstone, development for the film began almost a decade ago with Emma Thompson working on the script as early as 2010.
What My Friend Thinks:
"Last Christmas is about self-reflection and making peace with the loved ones that you have hurt in the past. There's also a great message about community and charity. Sure, you will get kilig with the charming Henry Golding and lovable Emilia Clarke but there's actually more to this movie than the typical romantic comedy. Seeing Michelle Yeoh and Emma Thompson in offbeat roles is also a bonus! It's the gift that keeps on giving!" —Ica Cheng
What I Think:
There seems to be a shorthand for whenever Emilia Clarke's character is having a mood. She usually emerges with mildly disheveled hair and slightly smudged eyeliner, which looks a lot better than I do on one of my better days. It's really a treat seeing more expressions from the actress compared to the deadpan/angry face she puts on in Game Of Thrones. From her endearing eyebrow-waggling to the impressive vocals, she was made for the rom-com genre. Emilia Clarke's character starts out as the most problematic character in the film as screwed over a lot of her friends. But if she isn't the most charming actress around that I could have easily forgiven her if she just flashed a smile. Such is the magnetism of Emilia Clarke as an actress and a human being. She certainly carried the entire film because I was still emotionally invested in seeing her do better despite my misgivings with how the plot unraveled. I always have a soft spot for deeply flawed people like Kate, characters who don't really feel like a grown-up, because it's relatable on a personal level.
As for the main love interest, it was amusing to see Tom as the gender-flipped manic pixie dream girl (MPDG) archetype. You know, the girl whose sole purpose in the film is to reinvigorate the life of the emo straight male protagonist through her quirky fun-loving ways? Well, he has that in spades with his slick dance moves and countless quotable advice. Who wouldn't love a man with some sense of rhythm? After all, we know that translates to something equally promising in another department. (Hint, hint!) Although there's not much depth to Henry Golding's character beyond being Kate's muse, he's got a lot of heart to spare. He is supportive without feeling the need to manhandle, mansplain, and take full control of Kate's situation. Does he have the hottest chemistry with Emilia Clarke? It's alright. Are they infuriatingly cute together? Yes!
More importantly, I appreciate Tom for being an all-inclusive character that an actor can portray him regardless of any ethnicity. This proves that a Malaysian-English actor, such as Henry Golding, isn't limited to decidedly Asian roles. (Let's be real, even those characters are stolen by white people!) I'm hoping this leads to finally normalizing the inclusion of interracial main couples—instead of demoting them to side characters—in future romantic comedies.
On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with being proud of your Asian heritage as I live for the fact that Michelle Yeoh always retains her Malaysian-Chinese accent. Her comedic turn as Santa was likeable enough but it's apparent that she's not accustomed to the genre. Santa's tough-love dynamic with Kate is endearing though and the festive dresses were always on point. I will always stan Emma Thompson for her screenplay adaptation of Sense And Sensibility but I'm not quite sure about her role as Kate's mother. It was a hit-or-miss for me in terms of delivery. Perhaps she should have gotten an actress of Eastern European descent if she really wants the immigrant family story. She did give us the amazing term, "lesbian pudding," so I will give her a pass.
As with most romantic comedies, we expect the messy main character to redeem themselves eventually. Still, I can never get enough of a good ol' "get-it-together-girl" scene! There's nothing quite like watching a self-improvement musical montage to get you through the tough times. Like Kate, we have all experienced our own rock bottom and have made questionable choices that hurt friends and family. You can’t help cheering Kate on as she gets a change of heart for the better.
I'm only a casual listener of Wham! and George Michael's music but "Heal The Pain" is such a bop that the track has been playing on repeat for days on end. However, given the out and proud lyrics in George Michael's music, I felt it was a missed opportunity to not feature a queer main couple. Without revealing much though, we do get queer representation in a few scenes but they could have done more with the material.
The film also tries to be socially relevant touching on topics such as homelessness (helping them was a cause that was near and dear to George Michael's heart), the plight of refugees in London (a particular scene illustrates said discrimination), which of course leads to Brexit (showing the fearful perspective from Kate's Yugoslavian family). There's also the issue of Kate being low-key embarrassed by her family traditions and heritage, which may be relatable content for second-generation kids.
While I'm glad that Last Christmas wants to address so many issues and deliver an inspiring message, it eventually buckles down on the heavy weight of having too much going on including some surprising turns in the story. If you are an obsessive overthinker like me though, you might spot these hints—which are about as subtle as signaling a crush—from a mile away. But there's always the satisfaction of mentally exclaiming "I knew it!" when it finally goes down. There are elements and subplots that could have been cut out to give the movie more room to breathe because otherwise, it becomes a holiday rush to tie up all the loose ends. These are one of the moments were British brevity could have helped tighten up the pacing and continuing the momentum.
Last Christmas makes an admirable attempt to update the romantic comedy genre for our modern and woke times. The story can get convoluted at times due to all the topics and subplots running about but its heart is in the right place. The narrative promotes a more independent role in the female protagonist's character development rather than relying on the love interest to swoop in and save her. It's a rom-com that focuses on other kinds of love. The film eschews the commercialization and bastardization of the holidays for more charitable acts of kindness. Kate's self-absorbed ways eventually change for the better once she pays it forward and gives back to the community. The recurring line of "Look up" supports this idea as it encourages others to just stop and appreciate everything. It really makes life less dreary knowing that you’re making a difference in someone else's life.
Last Christmas may not have surpassed Love Actually as the ultimate British holiday rom-com but the holiday film makes for a few good rewatches with a cozy blanket and a warm cup of cocoa when it comes out on DVD or an official streaming service. I feel like a few more tweaks and we could finally have a rom-com contender for the new decade. Also, get ready to have Last Christmas ingrained in your mind for the rest of the month and enjoy every minute of it.
I'd Recommend It To:
- Viewers who enjoyed Emilia Clarke's adorkable appeal and cheerful disposition in the 2016 film, Me Before You.
- Fans of the Crazy Rich Asians film who want to see Eleanor and Nick Young in another project together.
- People who love the Christmas season...which is probably majority of the Filipino population.
- Nostalgic '80s and '90s kids who loved listening to Wham! and George Michael's music in general.
- Anyone who can mad relate to a messy and problematic protagonist who needs to get their you-know-what together.
- Anyone who has ever been personally attacked and/or embarrassed by their family and relatives during holiday gatherings.
- Thirsty viewers who want to see a tall and strapping young gentleman, such as Henry Golding, being a very attentive listener. (If that ain't our collective kink! Take notes, S.O.'s)
- Single ladies and gentlemen who are feeling particularly cold and bitter during the Ber months and in dire need of Christmas cheer.
- Moviegoers who are a sucker for scenery porn will enjoy the best of what London has to offer in all its cobblestoned charm.
- Anglophiles who will appreciate the Britishness of it all.
- Daenerys fans who weren't too pleased with the queen's—spoiler alert—sudden tyrannical turn and tragic end in the divisive final season of GoT.
- Moviegoers who detest the commercialization of the holiday season and would prefer to give back to charity.
- Viewers that liked Christmas-adjacent British rom-coms such as Love Actually and Bridget Jones's Diary.
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