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Director Paul Feig has been taking chances and branching out to different genres and tones after his female-led Ghostbusters reboot was a box-office and critical failure. First he came out with A Simple Favor, a light thriller that was reminiscent of Hitchcock's more tongue-in-cheek genre outings. Now comes Last Christmas, a witty and wholesome British rom-com that's straight out of writer-director Richard Curtis' (Love, Actually) playbook. Curtis had nothing to do with this film, but his formula of placing snarky and cynical characters into schmaltzy settings and situations is all over this Christmas romance. And for a Curtis-type of project, it certainly gets the job done when it comes to having us laugh at the irony-laced humor while warming our hearts. The American Feig also does a good job of adapting his style to such a distinctly British rom-com mold.
Since her character was so iconically badass in Game of Thrones (As long as we ignore the sudden shift into psycholand in the last season), Emilia Clarke was typecast in equally action heavy and self-serious roles when it comes to her feature film outings. This led to some disastrous casting decisions, like the naturally diminutive and cute Clarke being tapped to step in Sarah Connor's shoes in Terminator: Genisys (You totally forgot that was even a thing, didn't you?) Yet the warm and charmingly ditzy demeanor she shows in interviews and other public appearances makes her immediately more suited for comedies and rom-coms.
She gets her chance here in Last Christmas, as Kate, a slacker who couch surfs between her friends and family while working in a dead-end job as a customer service elf in a store that sells Christmas merchandise all year. Already sick of Christmas, Kate isn't looking forward to the actual holiday getting close. All of this changes when she meet-cutes Tom (Henry Goulding), a charitable and openhearted man who shows Kate the good things in life that she might have forgotten about. Tom also gives Kate the boost she needs to pursue her acting and singing aspirations. As Kate develops feelings for Tom, she becomes increasingly frustrated about certain mysterious elements surrounding him. It's very hard to get a hold of Tom, who disappears for days at a time, leading Kate to suspect that Tom's hiding something.
The screenplay, co-written by Emma Thompson, captures the fast and loose sense of humor found in similar Brit rom-coms, while peppering the story with a wholesome aura that seems to come from a genuinely heartfelt place. There's a lot of Christmas schmaltz here, to be sure, but it's delivered with enthusiasm and gusto. There's also a political undercurrent, as Kate's Yugoslavian immigrant family is worried about the xenophobia of Brexit, while Kate comes to terms with the culture she turned her back on. Thompson, as Kate's immigrant mother, anchors the film's emotional heft, while also providing some of the funniest moment, many of which would feel familiar to those with an immigrant mother, like yours truly.
Much has been written about Last Christmas' "bonkers twist", which is actually very easy to figure out. Even asking a couple of questions about what appear to be plot holes would probably lead you to guess it. But it's not necessarily the unpredictability of the twist, but what that twist means to the themes of the story that matters. In that sense, it didn't feel like it came out of left field, and it felt earned. One complaint pertains to the "rom" part of the rom-com. The relationship between the broken Kate and Tom is almost all about building character through companionship. Even though we're looking at two attractive and charming people, an organic chemistry that would lead to romance isn't really developed here. It would have been a bolder choice, especially considering the genre, to keep the central relationship as platonic as possible.
This is an exuberant Christmas movie, so of course it's full of vibrant greens, reds, and a bright palette. The 1080p transfer captures the look without going overboard and leading to color bleeding or an overtly digital look. There's healthy contrast here and there, and the cinematography contains impressive amount of depth for the genre.
Judging by the title, you can tell that George Michael's music plays a big role in the film. Even though it's not a jukebox musical, Last Christmas is covered wall-to-wall with Michael's greatest hits. The lossless DTS-HD 7.1 track really comes to life whenever one of these tracks is used. Feig is a master at manipulating the sound levels to fit the mood of any given scene, the somber Praying for Time turning into an vibrant romantic set-piece, for example.
Commentary by Feig: The director mostly gets into the technical and artistic choices that went into every scene.
Commentary by Feig and Thompson: This is the one to listen to if you're looking for more of a friendly, loose, yet still informational banter.
Alternate Ending: More of an extra ending that's cute, but definitely wasn't necessary.
Blooper Reel: These used to be 3-4 minutes. With digitally shot comedies that rely on improvisation, we get 14-minute blooper reels like this one. It's fun, but overstays its welcome.
Deleted/Alternate Scenes: A whopping 22 minutes of excised material, mostly consisting of alternate takes.
Alternate Opening: It's basically the same opening, just edited in a non-linear way.
Last Christmas Full Performance: We see the full version of the film's one musical number.
Director in Vision: A very quick EPK interview with Feig.
It's All So Cold: A charming featurette about Clarke complaining about the cold during location shoots.
Try Not to Laugh: Another blooper reel, this time focusing on actors getting the giggles.
A Legacy Revealed: A quick EPK about the script.
Pure Goulding: A minute-long EPK about the male lead.
Emilia Recording Session: A quick look at Clarke's own singing in the film.
Love Letter to London: A short featurette about the location shooting.
Santa and Her Elf: A look at the store that Clarke's character works in.
Paul Feig Takes Over the Tram: This is interesting. Apparently, Feig used to be a Universal Studios tour guide, so he takes us through his old job.
12 Days of production: Loose footage that the cast and crew took during the shoot.
Even though it's far from perfect, and the central romance not really working out the way it should, Last Christmas is pleasant and witty enough to win over fans of Richard Curtis-style rom-coms. After watching the great Yesterday, which was written by Curtis, this can work as a light chaser.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com