Saturday, November 09, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Last Christmas (2019)

When I saw the trailer for LAST CHRISTMAS (2019) I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. I liked the cast, the London setting, and the seasonal angle but couldn't tell if it was a movie that would be for me.

Our oldest daughter saw it yesterday and pronounced it "lovely," adding that it made her homesick for London, where she spent a semester in college. She encouraged me to see it, which I promptly did, and I agree with her assessment. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

LAST CHRISTMAS tells the story of Kate (Emilia Clarke of GAME OF THRONES), who has recently survived a health crisis. She seems to be in the throes of depression and is starting to circle the drain in terms of self-destructive behavior. Friends are exasperated by her thoughtlessness, and it doesn't help matters that Kate has prickly relationships with her sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) and her controlling Yugoslavian immigrant mother (Emma Thompson).

The saving grace in Kate's life is her job as an "elf" at a London Christmas shop owned by Santa (Michelle Yeoh), yet even that is in jeopardy due to her careless attitude. And then Kate happens to meet Tom (Henry Golding), a handsome man with a dazzling smile who helps Kate start to appreciate the beauty of life and the world around her, drawing her out of her funk.

Tom comes and goes from Kate's life with maddening irregularity, but despite their uncertain relationship, Kate starts to move forward in other areas of her life. She finds meaning volunteering at a homeless shelter, helps play matchmaker for Santa and a Christmas-loving customer (Peter Mygind), begins making reparations to her friends, and inches toward having better relationships with her sister and mother.

If only she knew whether she has a future with Tom...

This was a very satisfying film which does a good job mixing imperfect reality and beautiful fantasy in the Christmas wonderland which is London. There aren't pat answers -- for instance, Kate's mother doesn't suddenly turn into an easy person to get along with -- but there's hope and encouragement. The underlying messages of the good feelings which come from helping others and the beauty to be found in everyday life, exemplified by Tom constantly urging Kate to "Look up!" and notice new things, resonate strongly.

The movie is also a love letter to London, the likes of which I don't think I've seen since NOTTING HILL (1999); in fact, London parks, which I wrote about after seeing NOTTING HILL, play a key role in this film as well. The movie showcases many favorite spots in the city -- for instance, I was delighted by a shot of Kate standing in front of Hamleys Toys -- and anyone who loves the city will enjoy the marvelous visuals of the city decorated for Christmas.

I thought Emilia Clarke, previously seen in SOLO (2018), was excellent, portraying a flawed character without making her completely unlikeable. Earlier this year Clarke disclosed she had dealt with two life-threatening brain aneurysms after winning her role on TV's GAME OF THRONES, and I wondered if that experience helped inform her performance here, as Kate grapples with a kind of "What's it all about?" post-traumatic depression.

Although their characters don't interact, LAST CHRISTMAS features two actors from CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018), Yeoh and Golding. I love Yeoh, and her character here is much less forbidding; in fact, her crush on the man who loves Christmas as much as she does is downright funny at times.

Golding is impossibly handsome, with a charming smile which causes me to think of Tyrone Power. I hope for good things in his career as he's definitely someone I'd like to see in more films.

Thompson is a wonder, completely disappearing into her loving yet messed-up mother; her frizzy hair and shabby clothes are pitch perfect. Thompson wrote the screenplay with Bryony Kimmings, based on an original story she wrote with her husband, actor Greg Wise.

Thompson and Wise's story has flashes of beloved movies from Christmases past -- a bit of THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947) here, a little IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) there -- while simultaneously being wholly original.

LAST CHRISTMAS was directed by Paul Feig. It was filmed by John Schwartzman, who also shot the excellent THE HIGHWAYMEN (2019), reviewed here last month.

Other reviews for LAST CHRISTMAS seem to be all over the map; some have been poor, while a review by Katie Walsh published in the Los Angeles Times was quite appreciative. I'm glad I took my daughter's advice to go see it, as I had a most enjoyable afternoon, and I hope my readers who check it out will feel the same.


Blogger barrylane said...

Very nice review of a London the way it used to be. Notting Hill is quite a reference point and hard to believe it was twenty years ago. Seems like now.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It really is hard to believe it's been that long since NOTTING HILL! Such a beautiful city.

Best wishes,

10:48 AM  

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