Blessed with two fabulous leads – who have stellar chemistry with each other – and a screenplay co-penned by Oscar-winner Emma Thompson, Last Christmas is a movie made for people who love Christmas movies. And it’s a thousand times better than anything Hallmark’s made-for-TV machine will ever crank out.
Emilia Clark stars as Kate, a seemingly self-absorbed and snarky klutz, who has dreams of performing on stage in London’s West End but who’s biding her time working in a Christmas-themed store run by an exasperated proprietor named Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Kate is estranged from her family – namely, her immigrant parents (Thompson, Boris Isakovic) and resentful sister (Lydia Leonard), who feels Kate is the favored daughter ever since a life-threatening medical episode several years prior.
Eye-deep in the chaos of her scattered life, Kate meets Tom (Henry Golding), a suave, good-hearted and relentlessly charming bloke, whom she initially rejects but gradually, and somewhat reluctantly, comes to like. Soon, they’re embarking on random misadventures across town as he opens her eyes to the beauty and wonder of the people and places around them.
To say any more would be to spoil the fun, as there’s a plot twist that’s telegraphed very early on in the film but not fully revealed until later. I had it figured out almost from the get-go, but – based on the conversations I overheard from filmgoers as they exited the theater – not everyone in the audience caught on. And, depending on how you feel about that twist, you’ll either love the film even more or possibly hate it outright. I fell squarely into the first group.
For me, Christmas movies are all about magic, and this one is packed with it. It’s got terrific, likeable leads: Clarke and Golding practically sparkle onscreen, and both turn in funny, heartwarming and occasionally heartbreaking performances. It’s got winning supporting players: Yeoh and Thompson are chronic scene-stealers, and comedian Sue Perkins of The Great British Baking Show pops up to helm one of Kate’s auditions. It’s got a clever, cozy and weirdly comforting script: Thompson and co-writer/husband Greg Wise infuse the proceedings with equal parts levity and life lessons, sprinkling in quick zippy one-liners alongside some stitch-it-on-a-pillow messages (which, I gather, some audience members found too preachy and idealistic). And the whole thing is wrapped in a glittery, tinselly, holiday vibe all set to the music of George Michael, whose titular song inspired the entire project.
Is Last Christmas a perfect movie? Oh, heck no. There are plot holes and contrivances and a completely inexplicable cameo by Patti LuPone, for starters. Will it hold up to repeated viewings year after year? Maybe, maybe not, because once you know the twist you can’t un-know it. But, for me, all of those things are totally forgivable because, on the whole, the movie made me feel like I was being wrapped in a cozy, loving blanket on a cold winter night. And that’s all I really want in a holiday-themed film.