Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Emma Thompson, Bryony Kimmings, Greg Wise
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson, Lydia Leonard, Patti LuPone
Released: November 7, 2019
Grade: C+

Last Christmas

We’ve seen movies based on books, plays, musicals and amusements rides.  Last Christmas is a little different in that it’s based on a song.  I’m not sure how the idea first originated but producer David Livingstone (Pride) entrusted Oscar winning screenwriter Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility) with the task of creating a film based on George Michael’s popular 1984 Christmas song.  That’s not a lot of source material given the song runs for only 4 minutes!

Centre stage throughout the film is Kate (Clarke), a young woman born in Yugoslavia who has now forged a life for herself in London.  She’s described as the “most selfish woman in the world” and while that’s a tad harsh, it’s easy to how such a reputation has evolved.  She avoids her family, she’s disrespectful to housemates, and she’s a lazy employee who spends more time on the phone than serving customers.

It may therefore come as a surprise to discover she works in a vibrant, colourful Christmas store selling ornaments and decorations.  It’s a place filled with happy people but the festive cheer hasn’t rubbed off on Kate who provides a strained, sarcastic look when asked by a customer if she loves her job.  Perhaps there are downsides to being surrounded by tinsel and deafened by carols for 365 days a year?

Once you’ve reached the point where you can stand Kate no longer (it only took me about 10 minutes), the film pushes for empathy and evolution.  We learn Kate wasn’t always an egotistical Grinch and there was a particular event in her recent past that shaped her current personality.  I won’t give away details (even though it’s alluded to throughout the movie) but when all is revealed, it didn’t alter my view that her dramas are largely self-inflicted.  I didn’t feel compassion.

The only person getting through to the troubled Kate is her new friend / love interest, Tom (Golding).  It’s clear that opposites attract given he has such a positive, uplifting view of the world.  He likes the freedom of not having a mobile phone, he spends evenings volunteering his time in a homeless shelter, and he’s quick to dispense informed advice for those in need.  He’s the ultimate nice guy who would be a perfect addition to the next series of The Bachelor.

Jillian Bell played a similarly self-absorbed character in last week’s Brittany Runs a Marathon but the key difference is that you could relate to her problems and appreciate her mindset.  That’s not the case here.  It’s as if the writers have created a character too neurotic and too unlikeable.  They have tried to soften the character with some unlucky, klutz-like actions (birds pooing on her, tripping into garbage bags) but these scenes struggle to win laughs.

There are other subplots but they’re either weird (a relationship involving the store owner) or undercooked (Kate’s relationship with her sister).  Director Paul Feig has made some wonderful female-led comedies over the past decade (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy) but sadly, this is a major disappointment.

You can read my interview with director Paul Feig by clicking here.