The director’s words are a timely reminder to us all to be open to criticism, responsive to feedback, but also true to ourselves. How’s that for a Christmas message?
Next week, Last Christmas will jingle all the way into cinemas.
It’s a Christmas bon bon infused with the kind of cheery, rip-up-the-rulebook romantic comedy energy we haven’t seen in the genre since the year 2009. (You can read our takes on some that year’s wildest romantic comedies here.)
There’s London festooned with fairylights! There’s Michelle Yeoh playing a character named Santa! There’s Emilia Clarke running through Soho dressed as an elf while Henry Golding dances – dances! – around her, which will either charm or horrify you, depending on how you feel about both Golding and men dancing in the street! And there’s plenty more stuffed into the belly of the turkey, but because this movie is so spoiler-prone, I will stop there.
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Because it is a romantic comedy, and because it is a romantic comedy about Christmas, the reviews have not been kind to this film. Despite the fact that it was written by Emma Thompson, from an idea she dreamt up with her husband Greg Wise, not to mention directed by Paul Feig and starring Clarke, Golding, Yeoh and Thompson herself, critics have taken to shredding the Christmas ham to pieces with what can only be described as operatic glee. (Rotten Tomatoes currently has the film at 50%.)
People like to tear down romcoms, a genre that has all things sugar and spice baked into its very bones. And people love to tear down Christmas movies, which are the same only with added snow. These are the kinds of films that are about the stuff of life – meeting someone, figuring them out, just two people muddling their way through human connection. No wonder most critics have, historically, written them off. Romantic comedies are earnestness writ large, movies about nothing more or less than all the extraordinary bits of all the ordinary days.
So what do you do, then, when the movie you’ve worked so hard on and for such heart-swelling purposes as telling a story of love and redemption and bloody Christmas cheer, gets slammed in reviews?
If you’re Paul Feig, you respond. And you do so with the same relentlessly positive, hopeful energy of a romantic comedy heroine.
Take this, for example, when Feig wrote back to a review from Rolling Stone headlined: “There are god-awful holiday movies…and then there’s Last Christmas. Our one-star review.”
“As a lifelong reader, I sincerely thank you for your opinion,” Feig wrote. “We can’t win everybody over but we will continue to try! I swear all of our hearts were in the right place. Can our one star at least be a really really big star?” He also threw in a couple of emojis.
This isn’t the only review that Feig has responded to. This morning, the filmmaker has been on Twitter – the internet’s swampland itself – responding to fans and critics alike. Not only is Feig retweeting the praise of Last Christmas lovers, but he’s also engaging with those who have negative things to say about his film.
Like a review that called Last Christmas his “first stinker” after a string of successes, including A Simple Favour and Ghostbusters. “I’m not as cynical as you may think,” Feig responded. “But I respect and appreciate your opinion. Thanks for supporting my other films. I sincerely mean it.”
At the risk of getting all didactic on you – at the risk of turning into a character from a Christmas romcom – there is something powerful to be learned from Feig’s words here. Anyone who puts anything into the world does so knowing that people will have opinions on it. This is the year 2019 of our lord, and everyone’s a critic. It’s not easy to read and listen and hear about those opinions when they’re negative, and it’s even harder to patiently engage in dialogue with those who believe you’ve made a “stinker”. It’s even more difficult when you’ve worked so hard on the project and poured so much of yourself into it.
It would be worse, though, not to do the thing at all because you’re afraid of what people will say about it or, crucially, you. That’s no way to live. (I really am sounding like a character from a Christmas romcom now.)
Feig’s responses to his critics are a must-read for anyone thinking about putting themselves out there. If you’re met with backlash and snark, why not respond as Feig has done: “Can our one star at least be a really really big star?”
Last Christmas is in cinemas in the US now and in the UK on 15 November.
Images: Universal, Getty
Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.