Friday, November 8, 2019

Last Christmas

I’ve found it hard to know how to review this movie.

In the beginning, it’s a funny and heartfelt story about a girl who has lost her way. Katarina, or rather Kate, as she insists (played by Emilia Clarke) lives with no regard for her health or wellbeing; she drinks, sleeps around, and keeps trying out for unlikely singing parts, while working as an elf in a all-year round Christmas shop. As her sister comments, “you are the furthest thing from an adult I know”. Even though she regularly manages to sabotage her friendships, everyone continues to give her leeway because last year Kate was sick, really sick, and in many ways she is still recovering.

Her boss at the store, aptly named Santa, is played wonderfully by Michelle Yeoh, she is both funny and acidic.The store is gorgeous, full of both charming and awful Christmas decorations and knickknacks. As Kate says, “Santa loves Christmas more than taste or sanity”.

Kate’s family emigrated from Yugoslavia and her overbearing and protective mother, Petra (cleverly acted by Emma Thompson) guilts and harangues her adult children, yet thrives to be needed. Kate describes her family: “anger, shame, resentment, embarrassment, and that’s just my mum”.

It’s a close collaboration with the music of George Michael and Wham! and much of the storyline hangs on the opening lines of ‘Last Christmas’. Hit song ‘Faith’ is also used, as is the Five Young Cannibals line 'She Drives me Crazy', being the ringtone Kate uses to alert that that her mother is calling.

Then there is Tom (played by Henry Golding). He appears outside the shop and hangs around to get to know her. As they spend time together, he encourages her to ‘look up’ and she begins to see all the decorations above eye level spread around London. He takes her to his own secret garden, a charming nook hidden in the city. He doesn’t have a phone, because he got sick of looking at his palm and left it in the cupboard. A friendship and then romantic relationship develops between them, but something is a bit off. He disappears for days at a time, and warns her at one point “you can’t depend on me”. Throughout the first half of the movie, I kept thinking, there is something not right about this guy, he seems both an empty character and too good to be true.

But one thing he says really does get her thinking “every action of a common day makes or breaks your character”. Slowly she starts to change, she helps others, she offers time at the local homeless shelter and she works to repair damaged family and friend relationships.

All of this makes for a story that has real potential - it was realisitic, funny, quite well-crafted and very prettily filmed.

Then comes a twist that requires you to completely suspend reality. And it’s how you feel about that that will determine how you feel when you exit the cinema.

Personally, I don’t mind silly, I don’t mind soppy romance, but what I want is something believable. I thought it might finish well, but once the story changed you had to reinterpret the whole movie. And I still can’t figure it out in a way that made any sense looking back. In the end, it was emptier than it needed to be. As my friend and I analysed it after, we thought it had great potential and could have been a great message about people growing and changing as a result of living through hard times, but in the end it was quite unsatisfying.

I was guest of Universal Pictures.

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