The days are getting shorter, the skies are staying considerably greyer and yet it is, as many a John Lewis or intricately put together Christmas commercial would like to tell us, the season to be jolly and with it comes a plethora of movies set during the Yuletide season, as well an encore of the debate that seemingly drives this time of year; is Die Hard a Christmas film?
Alongside John McClane’s trip to the Nakatomi Tower, there also comes an abundance of Christmas romances, most of them put together by Lifetime or Hallmark and which usually tend to play with romantic comedy tropes, maybe a dash of fantasy, a large dollop of snow an a Happily Ever After ending in which the two leads realise that they are meant for each other.
Last Christmas, directed by Paul Feig and with a screenplay by Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings, and based on a story by Thompson and her husband Greg Wise, is very much tailored made to for this time of year. Getting a November release in order to not be destroyed at the box office by the behemoth that is Star Wars (a similar strategy undertaken by A Bad Moms Christmas two years ago), Last Christmas is a film that will work or not depending on how cynical one is.
It is, for intents and purposes, a Lifetime Christmas movie with a substantially bigger budget, an A-list cast, A-list director, written by one of the biggest stars to come from the UK, backed up by a soundtrack made up of the works of George Michael.
There comes a point halfway through the film when a key piece of information is revealed about the film’s lead character, Katya (Emilia Clarke) which pretty much sets of the alarm bells as to the eventual plot twist that is going to come into play in the film’s final stretch, a twist that was pretty much figured out by everyone who saw the trailer.
There are no real surprises here, and yet that’s okay. Surprises are not really what everyone is going for here. Last Christmas is an unashamed slice of cheesy Christmas fun and works all the better for it.
Yes, it’s sometimes wonderful to get a film that subverts your expectations and surprises you by going in a different direction, and yet, there’s also nothing wrong with something that plays the hits, so to speak.
Like Love Actually (which also famously starred Thompson) Feig and Thompson haven’t set out to rock the boat. Charm and romance are the key feelings that the film is trying to invoke and if one can switch off the cynicism, it works really, well.
Emilia Clarke might have become super famous thanks to the incredibly dark Game of Thrones, yet with this, and also Me Before You, she has an ability to be not only charming but also whimsical, a trait which works wonders for a film like this. There is always the danger of a character like this falling into the realm of the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ trope, yet Thompson’s script and Clarke’s performance keeps things on the right side of charming without it becoming cloying and best of all, there are pivotal moments that aren’t afraid to show the character in a slightly more selfish light. That the film can do this without making her hateful and keeping her a sympathetic presence isn’t the easiest thing in the world to pull off.
If anything, the airier character qualities are given to Henry Golding in his performance as Tom and his philosophy of ‘looking up’. Without a doubt one of the most charming leading men to emerge in the last few years, with Crazy Rich Asians and now this, he has shown that he could fill a gap left by the likes of 90s era Hugh Grant or Richard Gere, but with a charm that is one hundred per cent his own. His second collaboration with Feig after A Simple Favour, which showed a more darker side to his brand of charm, the film brilliantly throws in a moment where he does a Sean Connery impression which should hopefully come in handy when he inevitably gets the James Bond gig when Daniel Craig hands in the tuxedo.
This being a British set romantic comedy, the film does contain references to the current political climate. Where Love Actually gave us the fantasy of a British Prime Minister standing up to a bullish American President, itself a comment on the ‘special relationship’ between Tony Blair and George W. Bush that was dominating the political sphere at the time, Thompson’s screenplay does remind the audience that for the more charming London aesthetic here what with streets lit by Christmas lights, beautiful parks and year round Christmas shop owned by Michelle Yeoh’s character (and nearly stealing the whole movie along with it) that this is still a country in the throes of the fallout that has come with Brexit.
Feig, a self-confessed fan of Love Actually, manages to do something that many of Richard Curtis’ movies, as great as they are (and I am a Love Actually fan admittedly), lack when it comes todiversity in their casts. Yes, they are resolutely middle class films, yet with the exception of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character in Curtis’ Christmas favourite (and let’s face it, he’s mere window dressing for the creepiness going on with Andrew Lincoln and Kiera Knightley’s characters), they sometimes do fail to reflect the British environment they are set in (I’m looking at you Notting Hill, admittedly another Curtis film that I love to pieces, even though it hard to ignore the racial disparity going on in it given that it makes one of the most diverse areas of London look resolutely white).
When all is said and done, it’s maybe no surprise that Last Christmas hasn’t been the most well received film in recent years, and yet it is literally a film that presented to the audience through its trailer and poster the film it delivered. There’s charm to be had here, genuine romance, lovely chemistry between the leads, a bittersweet plot twist, but in the end a genuinely optimistic message that’s just right for this time of the year. I loved it a lot.