Last Christmas is strange. It’s a very British movie, written by Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings. It’s set in London and stars Emilia Clarke, who could be in Nashville dressed like Dolly Parton, singing “Ring of Fire” and still sound entirely British. But because Last Christmas is directed by Paul Feig, an American with a very American grasp on comedy, it’s all a bit awkward, as if the Sex Pistols were covered by The Ramones.
I suppose I should tell you about the plot first. We start in Yugoslavia in 1999, which makes me think we’re in an alternate dimension since Yugoslavia was politically dissolved in 1992. But never mind. Young Kate sings in the church choir while her family watches teary-eyed from the front pew. Fast-forward to 2017. Kate (Clarke) is all grown up. She works at a novelty Christmas store in London owned by the regal Santa (Michelle Yeoh). But all Kate does with her money is splurge on alcohol and self-pity.
One day she meets Tom (Henry Golding), a tall, well-groomed young man who is everything she’s not. With one meet-cute after another, they fall into a kind of romance. Oh, no, there’s nothing so vulgar as sex here. She sees in Tom a kind of lifeline. There’s a catch – he’s only around when she’s at her most desperate. Sound fishy? Well don’t accuse me of spoiling anything; Last Christmas quite gleefully teases the possibility of a twist all on its own.
Other than that, Last Christmas is about as standard a Christmas movie as any you or I have seen. It’s filled with good cheer and promotes all the necessary yuletide trimmings, such as helping the homeless, being kinder to loved ones, making little gestures of good will and generally being less of a jerk to the world.
The hook here is that Kate has supposedly been mean and self-centred all her life and now nobody wants to be near her. The problem is, Emilia Clarke is so effervescent that she couldn’t be mean even if you prodded her with a branding iron. She’s isn’t nasty enough. She isn’t irresponsible enough. So, when Tom comes along, preaching joy and selflessness, it doesn’t feel like there’s much about her he needs to change.
Anyway, I come back to the direction. Paul Feig excels at broad, foul-mouthed humour, preferably with Melissa McCarthy leading the way. This time he’s challenged with dry British one-liners and sardonic quips. The innuendos and euphemisms. I dunno, he seems unequipped, as if he doesn’t realise that English humour and American humour are different beasts. Bridget Jones’ Diary is not Bridesmaids. Dialogue that should be hilarious turns out flat. Last Christmas ends up somewhat clumsy, faintly misguided and very schmaltzy. On second thought, I suppose that’s everything you could want in a Christmas movie.
Images © Universal Pictures 2019