In Paul Feig’s newest comedy, Last Christmas, Katarina (Emilia Clarke) didn’t give a heart, she got a heart, you see. The person who gave her the heart was in fact, George Michael, as this film attempts to explain what happened to said heart following his death in 2016. From there, Katarina feels a strange impulse to sing Wham! songs and suddenly grows a taste for leather jackets.
In reality, Last Christmas is actually about the life of Katarina following a (not George Michael) heart transplant and her struggles with existentialism following such a near death experience. She works in a Christmas shop run by “Santa” (Michelle Yeoh), and has essentially become passionless, lazy, and a complete mess. However, her outlook is challenged when a charming and quirky London bloke (Henry Golding) convinces Katarina to start having a positive outlook. From there, the two realize they have a certain pull to each other, and a relationship begins to cultivate.
My friends, Last Christmas is pretty much exactly what you think it is: a cheesy good time.
Is it bad? No.
Is it good? Sure.
Is it great? No.
I have to say: Had it not been for this cast, especially thanks to Emilia Clarke, I think this movie would have been exceptionally more boring. Let me be frank: I worshiped A Game of Thrones (until those disastrous final seasons), but oddly, the two leads, Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington, were the weakest actors despite being the most interesting and pivotal characters on the show. They were young and mostly inexperienced when they were cast, and it showed, especially when competing with an ensemble cast. That being said, I always found them to be the most charming talent whenever they appeared on interviews or for public appearances, and more importantly, I found both of them genuinely hilarious. So when I saw the trailer for Last Christmas and saw Emilia Clarke get to break out her full-blown charisma and that sense of humor, I knew I’d have to support her new work! And it paid off, because Emilia Clarke steals the show in this movie, far and away.
Now, this is a Paul Feig movie, written by Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings (in her screenwriting debut). Let’s talk about Mr. Feig first, shall we? I want to clarify: I don’t think he is a bad director. But I can’t say he’s a great director, just like I can’t say Last Christmas is a great movie. I’m not sure why, but for some reason, every time I watch a Paul Feig movie, I walk away content, but not wowed, not impressed. I might get a few chuckles or giggles, but rarely do I get a hearty laugh. I might give a little “aw” or frown, but I never cry. What I’m saying is, his movies simply don’t have a great effect on me. And it’s very frustrating, because I want to like his movies, I find them to have great elements, but I can never get fully into them. For example, I wanted to like the 2016 Ghostbusters. I loved the cast. I was open to a reboot since Harold Ramis died. I was interested. But I just sat there and could not get into it. It felt like a lukewarm SNL skit that ran on for too long, but I was too invested to change the channel. Likewise, I wanted to like Bridesmaids. I heard from so many people how they loved it and I sat down and gave it a watch and just…yeah. It was fine. Nothing special. Maybe I’m just not a fan of his movies, because I certainly enjoy his TV credentials; Feig worked on good episodes of The Office, Nurse Jackie, Arrested Development, and then some, but I just have never fully enjoyed his movies as much as he seems to want me to enjoy them. Ready for an observation? Here goes:
Most of Paul Feig’s movies are written by funny women. My favorite Paul Feig movie is Spy, but he was the screenwriter. So maybe it would be better if the women that wrote those scripts directed those movies, and fully fleshed out their vision? I’m not sure. Maybe because it’s not his story and because these are such female-focused movies, a woman should be directing them? It just needs that touch of the original author to fly better? Anyways, rant over. I like Paul Feig, but I don’t love Paul Feig, and it’s a shame.
Now then, the screenwriters, Emma Thompson (who also has a role in the film) and Bryony Kimmings. Both of these come from a theatrical background. One of them, as I mentioned, has not written a movie until now. And I think these factors affected Last Christmas to its bone. Because the entire time I watched this film, it felt more like a dramatic play with some cheesy moments thrown in than a movie. And the fact that it ham-fisted George Michael songs every couple of minutes formed yes, you guessed it, ANOTHER long-winded thought in my head: Was Last Christmas supposed to be a stage musical?
Because it sure feels like it was. It has the right story structure for a play, its script is very similar to a play I did a short snippet from (if I name it, I’ll spoil both the play and the movie), and it never had any scenes that justified the need to be a film. There were no big set pieces or comedic scenes that would require big special effects or stunt work. So you know what? I’m calling it, this would probably be better as a play because it was supposed to be a play. They even cast Patti LuPone for a very short cameo, who is one of the most famous stage musical actresses to grace the stage. I’m sticking to this theory, folks.
All of that being said, why does Last Christmas have a soft landing? I think it’s because it’s just a twinge clichéd; it’s a rom-com, so that’s a given. There aren’t too many jokes I haven’t seen before, it’s a fairly predictable storyline, and it’s a simple character arc. As I said before, the biggest pull are the performances. I have to say, Michelle Yeoh had more chemistry with Emilia Clarke than Henry Golding did. Which is a good thing, but maybe not in a rom-com.
But again: I cannot emphasize how good Emilia Clarke was for this role. And especially so when you add the fact that she, like her character, also underwent a major medical procedure and almost died. It’s similar to casting Robert Downey Jr. for Iron Man in that sense: they are the character. Now if Paul Feig makes a massive cinematic universe of all of his movies, the parallels will come full circle.
Now then, as a proud Incluvie groovy movie dude, I’ve gotta talk about the diversity in Last Christmas. And I gotta say…job well done. I think Asians are among the most underrepresented and/or misrepresented ethnicities in the Western film industry, which is bizarre, especially considering the vast influence of Asian film on Western film. So having a seasoned and well-known actress like Michelle Yeoh and an up and coming star like Henry Golding cast in this film was a good call. Especially for the woman sitting to my right in the theater who said, and I quote, “The Chinese guy has a British accent?” On top of that, even Katarina’s role and character arc in this movie touches on her Yugoslavian roots and her downplaying of her ethnicity to fit into London, as her family fled to the United Kingdom during the Yugoslav Wars. And you know what, sure, I’ll even throw in another bone: Having the music of one of the most prominent gay music artists take center is kind of inclusive.
So that’s it, folks. You’ll know if you want to see this movie by watching the trailer. You’ll feel it in your gut.
PS: Andrew Ridgeley of Wham! made a cameo in the crowd near the end of the film. Any fellow 80s dweebs might spot him.
Author: Rafael A. Sarmiento, originally published [12/6/2019] for Incluvie