Film review: Last Christmas


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, November 8th. 

Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham.

Next on The World and Everything in It, a new romantic comedy that I think will help you get into the holiday spirit.

NOW, among the many genres that have suffered in our age of superhero domination, perhaps none has been harder hit than the romantic comedy. Films like You’ve Got Mail, Love, Actually, and The Holiday were once yuletide staples. These days, fans of lighthearted love stories have to look to the Hallmark Channel for all those Christmas feels. I’d be the last person to discourage binge-watching from the couch while sipping hot cocoa. But the writing, acting, and production values of made-for-TV movies usually aren’t quite the same as a theatrical release.

If anyone can bring holiday romance back to the big screen in a big way, it’s screenwriter and actress Emma Thompson. She not only co-wrote her latest, Last Christmas, she steals every scene she’s in as domineering, immigrant mother, Petra. 

As the story opens, we learn that Petra and her husband had to flee war-torn Yugoslavia for Britain with their two daughters.

Flash forward 15 or so years and the youngest daughter Katarina has changed her name to Kate. She’s also picked up some decadent habits while living in her wealthy adopted country.

DOCTOR: Are you keeping up with the fruit and veg?

KATE: Yeah, fine.

PETRA: She is eating rubbish when she is outside; when she is at home she is eating my food and is good.

DOCTOR: What about sleep?

KATE: It’s all right.

PETRA: She never sleeps.

DOCTOR: Exercise?

KATE: Religiously.

PETRA: Not at all.

DOCTOR: Alcohol?

KATE: Every once in a while.

PETRA: She is drinking like the pirate.

DOCTOR: You say you’re OK and your mother says the opposite. Who do I believe?

KATE: Me, obviously.

PETRA: The mother, of course.

DOCTOR: Alright, alright.

We don’t see Kate being promiscuous, but we know that she is from the morning-after effects of her behavior. This, along with some language, gives the movie it’s PG-13 rating. But the movie portrays this as all of a piece with her other bad choices. She also drinks to excess, eats nothing but fast food, and treats her friends and family with selfish disregard. Then she meets Tom, played by Crazy Rich Asians’ dashing lead, Henry Golding.

TOM: I really enjoyed our walk today.

KATE: Ditto.

TOM: Would you like to repeat the experience?

KATE: Would you like to give me your number?

TOM: I don’t have a phone.

KATE: I was just beginning to think you’re not as weird as you look.

TOM: Before you throw me in the bin with the rest of your battered conquests, it’s not completely true. I do have a phone. It’s just locked in a cupboard.

KATE: Why?

TOM: Well, I got tired of staring at my hand all day. I mean, you should try it.

KATE: That’s like saying you should try death.

TOM: I think somebody really wants to get a hold of you.

KATE: Yeah, I know, and someone really isn’t going to get the chance. No.

TOM: Ditch that, and all of your stress will just melt away.

KATE: Oh, but I just like stress.

DRIVER: Oy, you getting on?

KATE: Yeah.

TOM: Your chariot awaits.

KATE: Indeed.

Refreshingly, this prince charming isn’t wealthy or famous. He’s just a sweet bike messenger with an especially important message for Kate: Stop worrying about figuring out who you are and start worrying about how much of yourself you’re giving to others.

Unlike most romantic comedies, almost nothing in Kate’s life changes to make her happy. Except that under Tom’s influence, she begins to treat people with more generosity. She starts volunteering in a homeless shelter and takes her lonely mother out on the town. Meanwhile, her relationship with Tom unfolds almost solely in long walks through nighttime London. Their physical affection is limited to brief kisses and hand-holding.

Emilia Clarke may be best-known for playing a warrior princess on Game of Thrones. But as she proves here, she’s shaping up to be, perhaps, the most winsome actress of her generation. Even when the story lags, she lights up the screen with her crinkle-eyed smile. Aside from some silly scenes with her boss who runs a Christmas store and brief pro-LGBT messaging through another minor character, it doesn’t lag often though.

Those who don’t enjoy the above-mentioned Hallmark Christmas movies might find it all a bit cloying. But the nicely acidic jokes land often enough to off-set the sweetness.

TOM: That is truly horrific. I mean, who buys this stuff?

KATE: Santa. She’s Chinese so she’s got access to some really freaky outlets. She just loves Christmas more than anything else.

TOM: More than taste or sanity.

KATE: Yes exactly. And that isn’t even the nastiest thing we sell.

TOM: Inconceivable.

KATE: Hang on. Check it out.

TOM: What is it? Is that donkey actually smiling at me?

KATE: Yeah, and that baby has a full set of teeth. I sold four of these last week, I’m that good.

TOM: Oh it’s a technomanger.

KATE: It’s a disco nativity scene.

Same goes for a few moments that threaten to turn political. Just when it feels like themes about welcoming the stranger are going to go from universal to pushing an agenda about Brexit, Thompson comes in with a zinger. She hilariously reminds us it’s human nature to blame others for our problems. As if to underscore the open-armed nature of the story, no one, not even a xenophobic ranter, is ultimately left out in the cold.

Thankfully, it does little to diminish the overall feeling Last Christmas leaves us with—good will toward men.


Emilia Clarke, left, and Henry Golding in a scene from Last Christmas. (Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures via AP)

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