The performer who fares best in “Last Christmas” is George Michael. Seriously.
As the title might indicate, the late singer’s music is pivotal to what is meant to be a charming comedy-drama. His tunes manage to emerge untainted from what otherwise is a pretty sensational misfire, trying to stand favorably alongside the sorts of British films that writer-director Richard Curtis does so well, such as “Love Actually” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”
Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones” fame is much more modern and much less controlled than on that series as a woman who’s basically a wreck … an aspiring actress estranged from her family and alienating her friends in the course of working at a year-round Christmas shop. Luckily for her, a dashing fellow takes an interest in her; he’s played by Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “A Simple Favor”) and only in a movie like this would he hang around her for as long as he does.
He’s the means for her becoming a better and more purposeful person, even reconnecting with her emigrant relatives – including her mother, played by Emma Thompson, who also co-wrote the script. Of course, she was in “Love Actually,” but her efforts to channel filmmaker Curtis are too obvious and heavy-handed. That also doesn’t help the director here. Paul Feig of “Bridesmaids” fame.
The ads for “Last Christmas” did a big job of trying to sell it as another “Love Actually,” but it’s far from that. That’s especially a disappointment coming from the multitalented Thompson, who initially worked with her husband Greg Wise to craft a tale from the basics of the long-popular title song. Whether or not it was an afterthought to add more of George Michael’s catalog to the soundtrack, that’s ultimately how the movie works best, as a Michael hit machine … but that’s not really why the film exists. Or, at least, shouldn’t have been.
Clarke and Golding both are engaging talents, and ideally, this picture should have done a lot for their profiles – particularly Clarke, as she comes off the television run that made her rather iconic to a large audience. For her, here’s hoping for better luck next time. (Also notable in the cast: Michelle Yeoh, alias Golding’s mom in “Crazy Rich Asians.”)
It’s notoriously tough to make a successful and enduring movie about the holidays, though even the failed ones tend to stick around year after year. “Last Christmas” is the latest of those, and it very likely won’t be the last.