An attempt to pay tribute to the music of George Michael and the fandom of Love Actually fails on both counts and at many more things along the way
Somewhere in the last decade, audiences, and in turn financiers, fell out of love with the London-set romantic comedy, a subgenre that had almost single-handedly been keeping the British film industry alive, or at least somewhat in profit. They were repetitive, predictable and filled with characters who were exclusively, uncomfortably, posh and white yet they were also undeniably effective crowd-pleasers and like many, Ive missed them, as parodical as they can often be. So has Emma Thompson, it seems. Because with all the confidence of a well-spoken Oxbridge alumnus delivering a climactic declaration of love in a public place, shes chucked together Last Christmas, a thirsty little festive film eager to remind us all why we actually loved Love Actually in the first place.
Based on the song by Wham! because sure, Last Christmas tells the story of George Michael-obsessed, former Yugoslavian 26-year-old Kate (33-year-old Emilia Clarke, with a regular posh accent), a Disneyfied Fleabag whose foibles are cutesy rather than catastrophic. She spouts lines like Why is my life so shit? and A shitting bird just shit in my eye! while working in an an all-year-round Christmas store in Covent Garden (!!!) dressed as an elf (an outfit she keeps on even when shes off the clock for some bizarre, unexplained reason). But Kate really wants to be a professional singer although shes technically sort of homeless and lives on whatever couch she can find. She avoids her concerned mother (Thompson, thick comedy accent), exhausts her beleaguered boss (Michelle Yeoh, trying her darndest), frustrates her ever-decreasing circle of friends and drifts from shag to shag while struggling to make anything substantial last.
But then, in one of the clumsiest meet-cutes in recent memory, while dusting Christmas decorations, she spots a handsome stranger (Henry Golding) staring at a bird. After a shit on her face (from the bird, not Golding), the pair start to fall for each other and go on a number of geographically questionable saunters around the city. But why does he keep disappearing on her? Can she sort out her life? And would Richard Curtis approve of this?
The spoiler-free answer to all three questions would be that you can probably figure it out from the first 20 minutes. Its all-too-easy to ridicule the work of Curtis but there was a deceptive precision to his scripts, seamlessly balancing the rom with the com, and an awareness of the films that have inspired Last Christmas only serves to highlight its utter incompetence in comparison. It might look the part, with the director Paul Feig successfully capturing the glossy, tourist-friendly London one would crave from such a film, but the script feels like a rejected first draft with unfunny filler one-liners and a scrappy, ill-thought through narrative. Its a beautifully wrapped Christmas gift thats filled with rotten turkey leftovers.
Kate is the sort of falling-into-a-heap-of-rubbish-without-messing-up-her-artfully-dishevelled-outfit archetype that Feig so carefully managed to avoid in his comic magnum opus Bridesmaids. In that film, Kristen Wiigs life was a genuine, unvarnished mess and she was a sometimes brittle, often selfish character struggling to get her life back together. But here, theres a defiant avoidance of nuance or depth in Thompsons script, co-written by performance artist Bryony Kimmings, and Kate is nothing more than a jumble of sub-Bridget Jones quirks whose heavy eye makeup is used to convey that shes going through a really rough time. Clarke is also miscast, playing Kate with an uncomfortably forced, overly mannered schtick, trying to emulate a Meg Ryan or a Julia Roberts but without any of their inherent charm. Golding has a bit more of that to spare but the couple has no real chemistry and hes lumbered with a secret that turns his character into a rather tiresome cad.
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