In Brief: I hate Christmas movies. Fortunately, in spite of the title, it really isn’t about Christmas. And even if it was a little bit about Christmas, I’d have probably liked it anyway.
Game of Thrones star Emilia Clark moves from dragons and such to more mundane matters of the heart. Having not seen any of her work in the HBO series, I’m not all that familiar with the buzz on the lady.
I did see her in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Clark was one of the movie’s very few bright spots. The movie is really forgettable and I quickly forgot how much I liked her work. Since this is more or less a Christmas movie, and I hate Christmas movies, I almost skipped the screening.
I’m glad I didn’t.
Clark is cast as the irresponsible Kate. She works as an elf at a year-round Christmas shop in London. It’s owned by a lady who goes by the name of Santa. Kate is not only a terrible employee but she is more or less homeless, couch shops for places to sleep, or picks up this guy or that in bars.
She avoids her controlling, crazy immigrant mom. The same goes for her judgmental sister. If either can be avoided, that’s perfect. Their relationship is complex and is one of the reasons Kate is so complex.
One day Kate meets Tom. He’s different. Tom shows her things about London that she’s never seen or noticed. He’s packed with dimensions in men that she’s never seen or experienced. Love blossoms.
Complicated love. Tom shows up on a bicycle once in awhile, talks to her, teaches her and then disappears for days. He’s only available to her when he’s wants and not when she wants him.
It leads to complications.
First the acting. Clark is joined by Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding. He bicycles in and out of the story playing Tom as a positive to Clark’s often negatively short-circuited Kate. He’s pretty good as are the supporting characters done by Michelle Yeoh and Emma Thompson who — by the way — co-wrote the script.
They and the other co-stars are superb but it doesn’t matter who they cast in those roles. The name actors are good and the non-name actors playing bit parts are good, too. So what? No one in the movie really matters other than Clark. Not Golding. Not Yeoh. Not Thompson. Not anyone. Clark is unreservedly electric as a young woman who — predictably — finds her true self in the light of a mysterious, almost unreachable man.
She owns the movie from the opening scenes to the weepy ending. In fact, Clark is so good, you don’t even care that the ending is a bit heavy-handed. That said, it’s a Christmas movie and Christmas movies do that.
That leads us to the subject of Christmas movies. It’s a few days past Halloween and not even Thanksgiving, and here comes a Christmas movie. Fortunately, “Last Christmas” is set around Christmas but Christmas isn’t the focus. Still, it’s obvious the producers are out to lure the “I love Christmas movies” crowd into theaters.
Put Christmas in a title and it’s irresistible. They love anything associated with the holiday and are especially fond of the zillion Christmas movies shown on the Hallmark Channel. I think Hallmark starts its holiday movie blitz about July.
Of course, I’m being facetious but Hallmark did do a Christmas movie marathon before Halloween. I get both sleepy and nauseous thinking about Hallmark movies and the actors and actresses with perfect hair and teeth, the perfect Christmas trees large and small, and all those perfect plots and with perfect, happy-ending outcomes.
The point of all the Hallmark talk has to do when I saw the trailer. It makes Last Christmas look like a Hallmark movie. Then I noted the director. It’s Paul Feig. He gave us Bridesmaids and last year’s very tasty, A Simple Favor, a film that I think Alfred Hitchcock would have loved.
Those are positives.
But wait. He also did the redo of Ghostbusters and Spy. So what you’re faced with is a 50-50 shot of Last Christmas being worthy of not being the “last” Christmas. Ironically, what you get is a movie that is 50-50. The 50 that’s good is really, really good.
The other 50 not so much.
It is Clark, her exceptional performance, and Thompson and her ability to write dialogue that seems real and that gives her characters multiple dimensions that makes me recommend that you put Last Christmas on this weekend’s movie shopping list.
Director: Paul Feig
Stars: Emilia Clark, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson, Lydia Leonard, Boris Isakovic
Rated PG-13 for mature themes. This is a surprisingly sweet movie. Put Last Christmas on your holiday Christmas watching list. Give it a 3 1/2 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
Click here for theaters and show times.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.