‘Last Christmas’ lacks any Christmas spirit
November 19, 2019
The review contains heavy spoilers for the film.
“Last Christmas” is a fascinating movie. It is not engaging in the typical sense, rather, its baffling incompetence in all aspects of its filmmaking makes this movie such an enjoyable time. “Last Christmas” is as messy, problematic and incomprehensible as any major film made and released in the last decade, competing with classic terrible movies such as “Jack and Jill,” “Battlefield Earth,” and “Catwoman,” among many others.
The film stars Emilia Clarke, known for her work as Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and rising star Henry Goulding who burst onto the scene in “Crazy Rich Asians.” The film is also directed by Paul Fieg, who has helmed several good films, such as “Bridesmaids,” “Spy” and “A Simple Favor.” Thus, with such talent both in front and behind the camera, it is stunning that “Last Christmas” contained no spirit whatsoever.
After viewing the film, the first thing that egregiously stands out is the writing and overall story presented. Not only are there immense logical fallacies within the world they established, the film executes its concepts in a horrid way.
Emilia Clarke plays Kate, an aspiring singer who has been in a rut ever since she had to undergo an immediate medical procedure to save her life multiple years ago. The exact nature of her condition and subsequent medical operation is deliberately left unclear to viewers in order to establish mystery and add credence. After underperforming at her job, failing at numerous musical auditions and with her relationship with her family deteriorating, she miraculously runs into Tom (Henry Goulding). Tom is enigmatic. His actions and very essence are overly optimistic, directly clashing with Kate’s longstanding pessimism. Their relationship blossoms and develops due to their ideological differences. Tom guides Kate slowly out of her shell and back into being an individual who helps others, cares about her work and rekindles her relationship with her family.
On the surface, this plot appears to be a standard and cliché Christmas movie containing all the familiar beats prevalent in all romance films set around the holidays: a down on their luck protagonist lacking the Christmas spirit, a love interest who is diametrically opposed to the protagonist in every way, a romance sparks between the two, the protagonist changes for the better, they fight, the protagonist is despondent for a short period of time and then the two eventual rekindle and makeup — the film ends on a romantic high note with the holiday spirits in full bloom. “Last Christmas” follows this formula exactly, diverting only in its abnormal twist on the formula.
The big reveal of the film is that Tom is not a real person: his entire character exists as a hallucination created by Kate. The secret medical procedure that Kate underwent was an immediate heart transplant after hers began to fail. Tom, at the same moment, succumbed to injuries from a car accident and is the one whose heart now resides within Kate.
This concept by itself is a fascinating one; it is the film’s execution of this premise that makes this feel extremely unnatural. The first major issue is in the film’s inconsistencies with what exactly Tom is supposed to be. Despite being a hallucination created by Kate, he interacts with real-world objects — often carrying objects, opening doors and turning on lights, guiding Kate to new areas previously unknown to her and even kissing her in public. Tom is an unnatural middle ground between Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” who is established at being intangible and never directly interacts with anyone besides George. Tom is not an angel nor another identity within Kate, rather he is a projection of Kate’s idealized version of herself. This revelation creates an entirely uncomfortable romantic dynamic between the two, with Kate essentially falling in love with the glamorized version of herself.
Another problematic element of this premise is that Tom himself has no character. Everything presented to the viewers of Tom is Kate’s projection of her desired qualities onto a physical manifestation created by her mind. The only attempt the film gives at characterizing Tom is that he repeatedly tells Kate to “look up”. However, the film never establishes the relevance of this line to his character, it just becomes something he says over and over again with no meaning behind it or reason as to why the line is so important to him. As a result of all of this, Tom, the secondary protagonist and love interest of the film has no discernible character.
Continuing with the missteps in story and writing, the film, despite its attempts at being a Christmas movie, is entirely dour. The film stands at a runtime of an hour and forty-three minutes with an hour and a half of that dedicated to Kate being selfish and refusing to fix her life, much to the chagrin of everyone around her. Almost the entirety of the movie is somber, unfriendly and unpleasant. Kate is an unlikeable character for the vast majority of the film despite Emilia Clarke’s best efforts to add her own charm and charisma to the role. So, because the film is from the perspective of the protagonist, the entire film adopts Kate’s demeanor.
Not only is the tone of the film lacking in any heart of charm, but the film’s Christmas setting is entirely under-utilized. Its relevance to the film comes only from the fact that Kate works in a Christmas shop. The film is void of any of the standard Christmas spirit or prevalent themes associated with the genre. As a result of this, the very marketing of the film is misleading, not reflecting what is actually presented on screen.
Further contrasting with the Christmas atmosphere are the odd political elements in the film. Admittedly, most films are inherently political, containing some sort of political belief that serves as a commentary on the current state of politics in whatever nation the film is set. With “Last Christmas” being set in modern-day London, the film addresses Brexit and the xenophobia associated with this decision. Multiple times in the film, Kate’s mother expresses fear about being deported back to Yugoslavia, a fear and remark that occurs suddenly with zero context and then disappears entirely without any resolution. There is also a scene where a British man berates a Yugoslavian couple for speaking in their native language, telling them to “speak English,” and then promptly leaves without any warning or explanation to his actions. These elements of the film come across as entirely disjointed from the overarching plot of the narrative. They are just as abruptly introduced as they are quickly ignored. These political elements of the film, which if included should play a larger part, feel unimportant and purposefully antagonistic as if the film wants to ignite more tension.
The screenplay, written by Emma Thompson, further falters with a stark lack of any humor, or rather, successful humor. The film attempts to poke fun at standard Christmas movie clichés with the odd dynamic between the owner of the Christmas shop that Kate works at, run by a woman named Santa, and the German man that she develops a connection with. The film introduces their relationship by having the man enter the shop, the quiet score switching to a verbose classical piece, and the characters have an awkward but layered interaction. Their burgeoning relationship is the film’s attempt to add some levity to the cold and selfish Kate. The film falters in this area because these characters are not established. Their humor and idiosyncrasies, along with their apparent history before they are introduced, are never explained by the film. These two have no motivations as to why they act the way they do with each other. Their relationship becomes similar to Kate and Tom’s: uncomfortable, unnatural and awkward.
The final distinct writing misstep is the wasted opportunity to add a musical element to the film. Kate is firmly established as a talented singer. Yet despite this, the film never opts to use, or even address, her talents. Kate is averse to singing ever since her procedure and instead of having her eventual transition into a better person be directly correlated with her love for singing, the film chooses to completely ignore this pertinent aspect of her character. The film would have absolutely benefited from this subplot, potentially adding much needed Christmas charm or even further establishing the main romance between Kate and Tom. But the clear lack of a failed opportunity here is represented of how the film is as a whole — wasted potential.
In term of directing, the shots are often flat and simple. The sets, which are very few and the ones present are limited in design, come across as though they could be taken straight out of a Hallmark film. Despite the film being set in a major city, everything is presented in a limited manner that it entirely negates the film’s vast setting. The film is also lit poorly where the characters are often illuminated in a bright light despite being in areas that are completely dark. The scenes that take place in the day are overly lit, even when there are clear instances of dense clouds cast in the sky. Everything about this film, from the writing to even its presentation and directing, feels unnatural.
The question must be asked, who is this film for? “Last Christmas” opened a month and a half before Christmas on Nov. 7 to a startling 11 million dollars, one-third of its 30 million dollar production budget. The film is lacking any fun Christmas or romantic moments, opting to serve more like an attempt at a political commentary with an unlikeable protagonist. The film, upon revealing the twist, loses all re-watchability. Unlike other great films such as “Fight Club” or “The Sixth Sense” which are elevated because their plot twists alters the entire movie by adding more to their already layered stories, nothing is added to “Last Christmas.” Instead, the end revelation takes away from the film because it removes any of the romantic elements of the movie, arguably the only charming aspect of the movie. This film doesn’t appear to be made for any one direct audience and won’t become a staple of the Christmas genre, essentially having no clear identity as to what it wants to be.
In the end, “Last Christmas” is very simple and incompetent. It is a movie that is so baffling absurd that its only enjoyment arises from watching it crash and burn into flames. From the very first scene the only thought in viewers’ mind is, “can this get any worse?” Yes, it did, so much worse.
Tyler Clardy is an Arts and Living Assistant Editor and can be reached at [email protected]