“Last Christmas,” a supposed seasonal rom-com, has all the trappings of a touching film but is unfortunately a bit of a scattered mess. The lead, Kate (Emilia Clarke), is also a scattered mess.
Kate is the child of Yugoslavian immigrants living in London, and is currently working as an elf in a year-round Christmas shop during the day, while auditioning for the West End (English Broadway) at night.
She is perpetually getting kicked out of flats and the houses of her friends, uses one-night stands to find nightly lodging, and is avoiding her dysfunctional family. Eventually, she meets a somewhat mysterious bicycle courier named Tom (Henry Golding) who pops in and out of her life. Over time, Tom teaches Kate to care more for herself and others, and become a better and happier person.
“Last Christmas” was not marketed correctly. It was neither romantic nor that comedic, although it did have some funny moments (if cringe-worthy interactions between a Chinese woman obsessed with Christmas and a German guy who loves sauerkraut is your sense of humor). Then again, who would you market this to? Its messages are so scattered and its tone inconsistent - I laughed for some of it but left the theater feeling depressed and moody.
We seem to be told to practice self-care, to value family, and to take personal responsibility for what we have done wrong. These themes could have meshed well together, but they didn’t. The twist at the end of the film was evidently guessed by many who saw the trailer (so don’t watch the trailer if you plan on seeing the movie). This twist is not well explained and leaves you feeling rather sad, but for what effect?
The randomness goes beyond the main themes. Emma Thompson as a Yugoslav? What? The George Michael music that the plot was unnaturally forced to fit into and work around? A shoehorned Brexit subplot, which could have made powerful points about the alienation of immigrants in the post-Brexit era, but instead came off as ham-handed? When the film ends, there are so many questions left unanswered. Why did Kate even try out for the West End? Did she have theater aspirations in childhood? Why did Tom always tell her to “look up” when walking through London? What did Kate end up doing with her life?
Once you get past the bizarre, there’s the problematic to contend with. I’m very tired of male romantic leads pressuring the female until she gives in and talks to them - no means no. As Kate says in the film, “I’m busy, you’re weird, goodbye.”
The family theme was also troubling - Kate’s family is downright terrible in some aspects. Her sister is condescending and not empathetic, her father no longer loves her mother and avoids home, and her mother “needs to be needed,” and thrives on Kate’s illness. All these issues are mysteriously forgotten by the end of the film without ever being truly resolved. If family is toxic, there is no obligation to forget their sins, especially if they don’t take any responsibility or attempt to make amends. Kate is presented as trying to fix her mistakes with her friends and her employer, whom she has let down in the past, but she ignores her family’s sins because they are family. Is this healthy?
Perhaps the only saving grace is an Asian male lead, without any discussion of the fact he is Asian – normalization of other races as attractive is important. It would just be great if Golding’s character wasn’t made of cardboard and actually had a personality.
Ultimately, I’m not sure who this film was for, but it certainly did not fill me with Christmas cheer.