Facile Christmas fare, just pre-coof – so last, last Christmas – from the pen of premiere luvvie Emma Thompson, whose prior foray into original comedy was disastrous 1988 sketch show Thompson, and Paul Feig, whose major claim to fame henceforth will be inflicting the femidom Ghostbusters on an undeserving world. Last Christmas isn’t so much bad as aggressively smug in its affluent-Left, Blair-mare virtue signalling, helping itself to a slice of the self-satisfied romcom pie usually reserved for Richard Curtis (there’s even a reference to “middle-class do-gooders”, so Em’s at least slightly self-aware).
I was quite ready to like Last Christmas, though. After all, I like a fair few Curtis comedies. Well, okay. A couple. I don’t consider Emilia Clarke (Kate) or Henry Golding (Tom) any great shakes in the acting stakes, but neither are intensely dislikeable (and Clarke’s best showing might have been in another of her death-fare pics – perhaps her picks are a consequence of the aneurysm she suffered a decade ago – Me Before You). But both leads’ naggingly textureless quality is only emphasised by Thompson’s premise (well, twist, if you somehow managed to make it through the proceedings oblivious).
She and hubby Greg Wise came up with the story, and she and Bryony Kimmings penned the screenplay, a variant on Bob Hoskins/Denzel Washington classic Heart Condition, whereby Clarke’s Kate received Goldings’ Tom’s pristine ticker the previous year. His actual ticker, but you know, like the Wham! song. So not.
This is thus the upbeat – but bittersweet with it – flipside to Michael Caine classic The Hand or Body Parts (which is pretty good), where the only deleterious effects of a transplant operation, besides just feeling “half-dead” and becoming an alcoholic slapper, are seeing dead people. Just more Ghost than The Sixth Sense.
Not for Last Christmas the messiness of rejection meds. Oh no. Kate’s year following the op has been one long shagged-out hangover. So, while the picture does pay lip service to the shock of suddenly finding foreign materials in one’s system – very popular just now – and nods to a romantic-spiritual idea of continuance, it scrupulously avoids any deeper delving into the subject. Which is, obviously, one advocated by materialist-atheist western medicine.
Kate is roused from her hedonistic fug by Tom, so sparking new spins on her relationships with those closest – mum Petra (Thompson), sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) and Christmas shopkeeper boss “Santa” (Michelle Yeoh) – as well as a spate of self-improvement as she quits auditioning for theatre and begins volunteering at a homeless shelter. Yeah, I know, you can see Emma doing the same. But only once a year, mind. And that’s if she isn’t too busy entertaining fellow luvs.
Thompson is, of course, a card-carrying, good-progressive-causes namedropper, such that her romcom offers a series of swipes at backwards, racist Brexit. That’s right, Emma, essaying a stereotypical comedy foreigner for our utmost amusement, denounces those actually racist folks, the ones launching into offensive diatribes at poor humble immigrants on public transport across the nation (“Why don’t you go back to where you came from!”) Along with jokes about lesbian pudding (she loves them really, hence the presence of popular TV lesbian Sue Perkins) and how funny/happy/brimming with character homeless people all are, all wrapped up in a bow of ineffectual inclusiveness.
The highlight is probably the actually-quite-sweet romance between Crimbo-loving Santa and Boy (Peter Mygind). Yeoh generally fares better than those diving headfirst into Thompson’s dialogue, as she can’t help but deadpan (some would say that’s because she’s naturally rather wooden, but not me. No fear). The insistent George Michael songs ought to have got massively on my tits, as he was never my favourite crooner, but are surprisingly less aggravating than Feig’s entirely craftless depiction of festive London.
The thing is, it’s very easy to go very wrong with a Crimbo movie. Mainly because they’re considered no-brainers, so why put the effort in; it only really counts as a failure if you fail to make money on them. When that happens, it means something is very, very wrong (Fred Claus, for example). Last Christmas made more than enough dough, and it’s sufficiently inoffensive that it might even become something of a staple in some quarters. If it can happen to Love, Actually, it can happen to any overeggnogged Yule log.