Last Christmas

 

                This is the gentler holiday offering.  Next to the horror movie and the next Terminator and the war carnage, it looks cute and safe.  And it is both those things.  But it is also more than expected.

                Kate (Emilia Clarke) is an attractive young British woman who is also a mess.  She dresses as an elf and works in a Christmas store, but has a hard time focusing on customers.  And her boss is blunt about Kate not living up to her expectations.  Turns out that’s true in the rest of Kate’s life, as well.  She claims that her family relationships are a nightmare, so she’s been couch-surfing at friends’ places, but quickly wearing out her welcome, either by inadvertently breaking things or even bringing strange guys home for one-night stands.  And that usually after she’s had too much to drink at the bar.  She’s more often than not rolling her suitcase behind her, because she’s usually “between” places to stay.  So far, she’s managed to get by on her good looks and charm, but that’s not been enough for her failed theater auditions.  Or for her own family.  She doesn’t want to talk to her Mother (Emma Thompson), she has little to do with a father who’s absent most of the time driving a cab, and she can’t seem to be around her sister without both of them saying hurtful things to each other.

                That’s why meeting Tom (Henry Golding) seemed to change everything.  He was kind and attentive, and even gentlemanly.  He was fun to be with, and a great listener, but he’s got this annoying habit of disappearing without explanation.  He claims his phone is locked in the cupboard; he feels so much freer without it.  So she can’t text him or call him.  She doesn’t know how to get hold of him, so she just has to wait until he comes by, or until she happens to run into him again.  She’s so relaxed around him that she even tells him about her recent health issues, and how she had to have a heart transplant, and ever since, she’s not quite been herself, and nobody seems to understand that returning to normal isn’t like turning on a light switch.

                Even just talking about it with Tom seems to be therapeutic for Kate.  She starts taking more control of her life.  She hesitantly starts rebuilding relationships in her family.  She actually does something nice for her boss, who is enjoying her own rare romantic adventure.  Kate even volunteers at a homeless shelter, perhaps because there’s a part of her that realized how close she came to being homeless herself.

                And all this with the background music of George Michael, yes, including his song that provided the movie’s title.  Though there’s a plot twist in there, as well.  Co-Writer Emma Thompson gave herself a difficult role imitating a foreign accent, but her acting prowess helps add gravitas to the sometimes-frustrating weightlessness of our ditzy but lovable Kate.

                It’s not exactly happily ever after.  But a lot of the characters are happier at the end than they were at the beginning, so we’ll take the warm sentiment along with the music video moments, and even the cheesy Christmas play at the end.  Because holiday spirit can come in unexpected places.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association