Last Christmas has all the hallmarks of a good festive film, but does it live up to expectations?
Christmas and seasonal rom-coms – you can’t really have the one without the other in my eyes. Although I don’t celebrate Christmas, I still feel the ‘spirit’, and love nothing more than switching on ITV2 and catching one of the festive films on repeat, like The Holiday and Love Actually, with a satisfied, cheesy grin on my face.
Penned by Oscar winner Emma Thompson, with gorgeous leads in Clarke and Golding (who were sure to have crackling chemistry), and set to the soundtrack of the late, great George Michael, Last Christmas looked like it would be a surefire winner. And yet it misses the mark.
Kate (Clarke), or Katerina as her Yugoslavian family like to call her, works as an elf in a Christmas shop owned by the aptly named Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Our romantic lead is down on her luck, drinks her sorrows away, is pessimistic, and is a simply careless employee. Dreaming of a career on the West End stage but never committing to it, she cuts work to attend crushing open auditions. Couch surfing and listless she has a meet-cute with Tom (Golding) that involves shelf dusting and ends with bird shit in her eye. So far, so crappy. Mysterious Tom is the opposite of Kate: positive and friendly, he volunteers for the homeless, always with a smile. He pops up without warning constantly (because he is phone free) and is on a mission to have Kate “look up” and not miss the blessings life gives.
Not one to see the silver lining, Kate continues to carry the weight of surviving a serious health condition and dealing with a complicated over-bearing mother (played by Thompson, with a heavy Eastern European accent) who wants to wrap her in cotton wool. You’re wondering, when is the big, acceptably sappy, totally in-my-feels moment between the supposed love interests going to happen? Well, it came and went swiftly with nary a sniffle from me. It wasn’t the predictability that was the issue, but the fact that I wasn’t interested in the ending.
It’s not all negative. Clarke’s Kate is lovable and does get a few laughs through her bumbling mishaps. The let-down is the chemistry, or lack thereof, between Clarke and Golding. I was not expecting the Prince Charming, opulent suaveness we saw from Golding in Crazy Rich Asians, but nor was I expecting this stale dialogue that no true feelings can ever spring from.
The clunky film aims for easy laughs that don’t go past the obligatory ‘ha!’ and has you pulling at your hair (or in my case headscarf) because it could have been so much better. The George Michael soundtrack felt like an after-thought, with the songs slotted in rather than tailored to plot moments.
Thompson shows her political leanings with a divisive anti-Brexit voice present, which was just fine with me. Perhaps the redeeming quality is the Christmas message that comes through of doing something for others and caring for the fellow man, and how this is what truly leads to happiness. Let that be the takeaway from this unsatisfying Christmas tale.
Mayran Yusuf is a film critic who loves nothing better than a good scroll of @TheShaderoom on Instagram and a sucker for any drama that BBC flings out. Series link at the ready!
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