“It costs a lot of money to look this cheap,” Dolly Parton famously liked to say. And it takes a lot of talent, apparently, to make a movie like Last Christmas — a pile-on of dingle-bell schmaltz so deeply ridiculous it’s almost hard to believe all the top-tier names that went into it.
Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids) directs; Emma Thompson, possessor of two Oscars, cowrites and costars alongside Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke and Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding; the muse is Wham’s deathless titular ode to heartbreak under the mistletoe. The soundtrack is strictly gold-star George Michael, too, from “Faith” and “Freedom ’90” to “Praying for Time.”
It’s not so much that Christmas is less than the sum of its parts, exactly, as that it actually seems to want to be bad — a sort of Hallmark Movie deluxe, complete with random starry cameos (Patti LuPone, Catastrophe’s Rob Delaney) and a supernatural twist so ludicrous it may actually make you want to punch a reindeer.
Clarke is Kate, a lost Londoner who can’t seem to stop drinking and shagging and klutzing her way out of the good graces of everyone in her iPhone contacts. She’s not exactly homeless, but she’s quickly running out of couches to crash on, and wearing down the last nerve of her boss at a year-round holiday boutique, a woman called Santa (the lovely and regal Michelle Yeoh; who knows what the hell she’s doing here).
Kate’s a sloppy elf, maybe, because all she really wants to be is a singer, despite the mounting evidence provided by multiple failed auditions. So when a handsome stranger (Golding) appears outside the shop one day and seems to offer friendship, or at least a lot of talk about bird stuff, she reluctantly submits to his sunny aphorisms and advice.
Clarke has waded into rom-com territory before with 2016’s Me Before You, and proved to have more in her repertoire than mother of dragons. Here she’s supposed to be a sort of adorable mess, her eyes panda-ringed in charcoal and blurry tattoos on every knuckle bone. She constantly alludes to an illness that changed her, and a family she can’t stand; somehow, when Kate’s not having one-night stands in friends’ guest rooms or accidentally assassinating their pet fish, the actress’s own loopy charisma keeps coming through.
Golding is less lucky, an outline of serene dreaminess with no discernible personality trait beyond really great hair, and Yeoh is given far too much snappy Gilmore Girls-style dialogue to regurgitate. As the overbearing mother still carrying a torch for her Yugoslav homeland, Thompson isn’t far off from Tina Fey’s grim Albanian in the old Girls parody on SNL.
And yet: When Christmas isn’t busy being frenetic and terrible and so tonally strange, there are moments when a line or a moment lands, and it almost feels good to surrender to the holiday cornball of it all. Like a gingerbread house you’ve sworn not to eat because it’s crumbly and sticky and has probably been sitting in the windowsill for way too long — but you do anyway, and you don’t completely hate it, because that’s what the holidays are for. C+