Emilia Clarke can’t save ‘Last Christmas’
Rated PG-13. At AMC Loews Boston Common, Regal Fenway Stadium and suburban theaters.
Universal has spent a small fortune promoting “Last Christmas,” a romantic comedy with a twist from writers Emma Thompson and husband Greg Wise, American director Paul Feig (“Ghostbusters”) and stars Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones” and Henry Golding of “Crazy Rich Asians.” So what could go wrong? A lot.
The film’s heroine Katarina aka Kate (Clarke) is a directionless hard-drinking trollop when we first meet her. She auditions unsuccessfully for parts in the West End and works in a green elf costume in a year-round London Christmas shop owned and run by the demanding, semi-evil scold named Santa (Michelle Yeoh also of “Crazy Rich Asians”). I know, it sounds like Dickens.
But it isn’t, I assure you. Warning: As the title suggests, the soundtrack is replete with the music of the late North London-born George Michael of Wham! fame, including a new song released three years after his death.
Young Kate (Madison Ingoldsby) used to sing in a choir. The current Kate is likely to wake up in the bed of some hot dude she just met, whose fiancee is out of town but arrives home a day early. “Did you shag him?” the fiancee demands. Kate delivers a face-quivering affirmative and is thrown into the street with a piece of luggage we assume contains her earthly belongings.
Kate meets a mystery man named Tom Webster (Golding), whom she spies on a bike outside the shop. They meet “cute” when a bird he points out to her poops in her eye. Wham! He shows her secret parts of London, including a large nearby garden with benches. Everywhere we look, there are white Christmas lights, turning London into some species of Disneyland.
Eventually, Kate must return to the small London flat shared by her eccentric Yugoslavian mother, Petra (Thompson, one of the few amusing people in the film). At one point, apropos of something, Petra says, “I blame the Poles.” Her Yugoslavian husband, a lawyer turned Uber-type driver, mostly avoids his wife. Kate’s estranged sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) is gay, but hides it from her parents. Kate had some mystery illness that required a hospital stay. She is fully recovered. But the nature of this illness is unnaturally withheld from us, a plot device I despise. In one scene, Tom and Kate break into a skating rink. But where did they get the skates? The devil is in the details.
Clarke is a very talented person. The camera adores her. She can be funny, although you would not know it from this film’s boring relationship and life-counseling dialogue, platitudes and lame wisecracks. Kate tramps, ahem, around London in her signature leopard print overcoat like the sexual jungle beast of Yuletide. But Tom, who likes to twirl while he walks with Kate on the streets, is not much of a character. This is not the fault of Golding, but of the writers. Tom claims to volunteer at a nearby homeless shelter, where Kate has the idea of, you guessed it, putting on a Christmas show with homeless actors (Isn’t that a tautology?).
All the funny bits in the film are in the trailers, per usual for this type of seasonal effort. “Last Christmas” almost has the field to itself. But eventually, I did not care what the twist was going to be. I just wanted “Last Christmas” to be over. I blame the Poles.
(“Last Christmas” contains sexually suggestive scenes and language and profanity.)
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