Last Christmas Cert: 12A, 1hr 43mins
On paper, at least, Last Christmas seemed to have so much going for it – a screenplay co-written by the clever, funny, not-to-mention double-Oscar-winning Emma Thompson; direction from the current king of film comedy, Paul Feig, of Bridesmaids and The Heat fame; and, of course, the tuneful delights of the late, great George Michael.
Well, all I can say is that all that talent doesn’t quite come together, as they all, no doubt, imagined and hoped. It’s not quite as bad as advance word has suggested – particularly if you can park your brain in festive neutral, ignore all the films it will remind you of, and are a big fan of Emilia Clarke – but Bridget Jones this most definitely is not.
Most of its problems come at the beginning, when our willingness to embrace the production is hampered by a lack of likeable characters, the laboured complexities of the plot, and by the sudden realisation that one of the supporting characters in particular appears to have been lifted so entirely from Fleabag that Phoebe Waller-Bridge could probably sue.
Last Christmas is not quite as bad as advance word has suggested – particularly if you can park your brain in festive neutral and are a big fan of Emilia Clarke (above)
Clarke, still best remembered as the ‘mother of dragons’ from Game Of Thrones rather than for her contribution to tear-jerkers such as Me Before You, plays Kate, a young Londoner leading a rickety life of heavy drinking, one-night stands and unsuccessful auditions.
For although she works for a Christmas-themed shop in Covent Garden by day, what Kate dreams of is a career in musical theatre.
Ah, you’re beginning to see where Michael’s music might come in… or rather, you would be if it wasn’t already playing incessantly and rather unimaginatively in the film’s background.
Emilia Clarke plays Kate, a young Londoner leading a rickety life of heavy drinking, one-night stands and unsuccessful auditions
At one point, a bleary-eyed Kate really does wake up to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.
The brusque, sardonic and distinctly self-centred Kate, however, is not quite the diminutive English rose she appears. ‘Iz not name,’ complains her mother, improbably played by Thompson herself: ‘Katarina iz name.’
Yes, it turns out Kate’s entire family are from the former Yugoslavia, an unlikely plot device apparently inserted so that several anti-Brexit moments can be included, pleas for liberal tolerance inserted, and Thompson can show off her funny accents.
It turns out Kate’s entire family are from the former Yugoslavia, an unlikely plot device apparently inserted so Emma Thompson (above) can show off her funny accents
In a production notable for its political correctness, it’s perhaps surprising that comic Slavic accents delivered by Cambridge-educated Brits are still considered OK, although they do eventually deliver one of the funniest lines in the film: ‘I blame ze Poles.’
But slowly the film begins to find its feet, with Feig filling the screen with that version of Yuletide London you only really see in romantic comedies, all omnipresent black cabs, bustling street markets, endless Christmas lights and high streets full of interesting-looking independent shops rather than back-to-back coffee chains and mobile-phone stores.
The beautiful Michelle Yeoh, who plays Kate’s initially over-stern and improbably named boss, Santa, softens to good effect once she’s been given her own romantic subplot and a few good lines.
While handsome Henry Golding is far better here, as Kate’s new admirer, Tom, than he was in Crazy Rich Asians, to such an extent that it’s a shame he isn’t given a bit more to do. But then he is playing a character who keeps disappearing…
Clarke, whom I wasn’t convinced by in Me Before You, doesn’t completely win me over here either, but she’s been cast specifically to bring in a younger audience. She’s a very youthful 33 in real life but significantly playing mid-20s here.
There’s no doubt that the film builds to a modestly heart-warming, generously spirited ending, as the action slowly focuses at the homeless centre where Tom works and to which Kate is strangely drawn.
Nevertheless – and whisper this as carelessly as you like – it could have been so much better. A lingering shot of Wham! alumnus Andrew Ridgeley serves as an evocative reminder that Michael’s music, almost tailor-made for this sort of thing, deserved something superior.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
Le Mans 66 (12A)
This motor racing drama unfolds like a very long episode of Top Gear. There are only two female parts and one of them is the GT40 car that Ford, back in the mid-Sixties, hoped would wrench the Le Mans title from the hitherto unstoppable Ferrari.
‘Coom on moi beauty,’ urges driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), pushing both car and Brummie accent into top gear as he whizzes endlessly round a dark, rainy Le Mans track.
Matt Damon co-stars as Carroll Shelby, the Stetson-wearing former racer whom Ford bring in to set up their team and who appoints the inevitably maverick Brit, Miles, as lead driver.
Matt Damon (above) co-stars as Carroll Shelby, the Stetson-wearing former racer whom Ford bring in to set up their team
There are one or two fine moments here, but the film never quite matches motoring velocity with human emotion.
Marriage Story (15)
This dark comedy of separation comes garlanded with award expectation. And I can certainly see it picking up nominations, with Scarlett Johansson leading the way as Nicole, the topless Hollywood wannabe turned serious actress who discovers her marriage to Charlie (Adam Driver) has fallen apart.
It is funny, but goodness it feels over-long and presents a very American version of divorce that may not chime with audiences over here.
The Report (15)
Unlike Official Secrets, the recent British spy drama that put the act of whistle-blowing centre-stage to help tell its complex story, its American counterpart focuses on the fine detail – a five-year secret Senate investigation into allegations the CIA had used torture on captured Al Qaeda suspects in the wake of 9/11.
This is an important film, which is sometimes hard to watch – but it does tie itself in narrative knots.
Little Monsters (15)
Little Monsters is one of the oddest films you’ll see all year, as layabout Dave volunteers to help on his nephew’s school trip purely because he fancies the teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o).
Layabout Dave volunteers to help on his nephew’s school trip purely because he fancies the teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o, above)
And then – how can I put this – their family fun park is invaded by zombies.
It’s very funny at times, but somehow doesn’t quite justify a trip to the cinema.