Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve.
Last Christmas does exactly what it says on the wrapping, covering you with a blanket of slushy snow, pulling at your heartstrings, over-indulging you with sweetness and cuddling you with a warm glow of George Michael songs.
The film, which ostensibly looks to have taken inspiration from Richard Curtis movies, actually tells us in the opening credits that it was “inspired by” the song Last Christmas, by the late George Michael, who also died on Christmas Day, in 2016.
And it is, quite literally. Not by the famous 80s video to the song, of George and Andrew cavorting about in the snow with their ski lodge pals – a clip so full of sexy intrigue and snowy betrayal that I’ve always hoped it might be made into a full-length feature, if not its own 8-season series – but by the actual lyrics, the literal lyrics.
I’m not saying anymore lest I spoil the conceit. Suffice to say that when the twist of it comes, it hits with the groan of a Christmas cracker gag punchline (and, you know me, I don’t mind a cracker gag.)
So is Last Christmas any good? It’s as good as it wants to be and as it needs to be. So in some ways, it’s perfect. It snows, London looks lovely, it’s got some decent lines and some well-timed gags, people learn lessons, and you come out wanting to be nicer, to people and to yourself.
But, there will be many for whom such stuff is not worthy of consideration. And they’re right, too.
But between them, screenwriter Emma Thompson – who also stars in a way-over-the-top and out-of-date comedy performance (as an overbearing former-Yugoslavian refugee mother) – and director Paul Feig (he of Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters and Spy) have mulled the wine into a sickly sweet a concoction that should get everyone in the Christmas spirit.
The story is about aspiring musical singer Kate (Emilia Clarke) who meanwhile works as an elf in a Covent Garden Christmas store run, for some reason, by a Christmas-obsessed Chinese woman, and gamely played by Michelle Yeoh. I’m not saying they’re looking for the huge Asian market here, but the love interest is played by Henry Golding, a smooth British-educated actor who played Yeoh’s son in the fun hit Crazy Rich Asians.
Here, he’s a too-good-to-be true (i.e. highly irritating) beau for Kate, working in a homeless shelter and showing her secret parts of London and seemingly magically able to get from Ally Pally ice rink to the Strand in one hop and make the Number 11 bus stop on Regent Street.
Oof. We don’t like such London liberties. However, however. This film no more pretends to be real than, dare I say, the Christmas story itself. Miraculously, both just about get away with it.
The songs of George Michael are peppered throughout – prepare to hear Last Christmas itself mangles in a number of ways, even by a talking electronic scarlett glitter Christmas gibbon. Thankfully, it’s not one of those films where loads of other people sing George’s songs – no, they’re mainly playing on the radio in the pub, or as traditional soundtrack accompaniments. Heal the Pain features a lot because, you know, Kate’s in pain; Everything She Wants is there, because, well, she wants stuff; and Praying for Time and One More Try and Freedom, for tenuous thought not entirely unwelcome reasons – I’m still humming the George songs, because they’re great. But this isn’t a RocketMan or a Bohemian Rhapsody.
It’s literally about Last Christmas, I gave you my heart. And it might just take yours, if, hey sucker, you let it. Or you might just turn a different corner.