DIRECTOR: PAUL FEIG | SCREENPLAY: EMMA THOMPSON | STARRING: EMILIA CLARKE, HENRY GOLDING, EMMA THOMPSON, MICHELLE YEOH | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Last Christmas completely understands the reservations you may have about buying a ticket to a movie based on George Michael's seasonal earworm. From the opening scene, writer Emma Thompson and director Paul Feig set up all the Christmas film and rom-com tropes you're expecting to see and proceed to take them somewhere new, often resulting in genuinely funny or poignant, real moments. We get it, you've heard it's rubbish. You've heard wrong.
Emilia Clarke's Kate is an extremely likeable mess from the start - an aspiring singer who can't particularly sing, who’s been couch-surfing and torching friendships with her self-centred behaviour. She soon meets a handsome man (Golding) and begins a classic romantic comedy relationship with him, where he begins to show her the beauty there can be in everyday life if you notice it and are kind to those around you. This could certainly run the risk of being excessively cheesy, but we then learn of Kate's recovery from a recent heart transplant from an organ donor (yeah that's right, the heart they gave her 'last Christmas'…), and the resulting trauma and complex feelings she has about hearing she's 'lucky to be alive' all the time, giving this theme a real emotional resonance. The twist, and it's a biggun, is a bold choice which really pays off and which may or may not have made STARBURST cry a little tear.
The relationships Kate has with those around her (including Thompson as her heavily accented Yugoslavian working-class mother and Michelle Yeoh as 'Santa', her boss from her job as a Christmas elf), are all unexpectedly complex, with each getting a compelling arc. Thompson's script is packed with genuinely comedic moments - from the Taika Waitii-esque casual back and forth between a pair of policewomen investigating a break-in, to the standout cameos from Rob Delaney and Sue Perkins - there was rarely a joke that didn't land. As Kate is a child of immigrants, the film also dares to deal with Brexit and issues of xenophobia in a surprisingly nuanced way. The characters and cast are remarkably diverse (shout out to casting directors Alice Searby and Fiona Wear for one of the most authentically inclusive casts we've seen in a long time), and even the use of the done-to-death 'volunteering at a homeless shelter at Christmas' trope works here, partly because the homeless characters and volunteers are so well rounded, and partly because the ‘spirit of Christmas’ message feels so earned. Its Rotten score may be at 47% at the time of going to press, but we had a quick chat with the guy who sold us our popcorn and he also “quite enjoyed it”, so that's at least two positive recommendations you've got for the film now. Treat yourself!