Whenever director Paul Feig chooses a genre, he makes one of the best in the genre. Female raunchy comedy? Bridesmaids. Buddy cop movie? The Heat. James Bond? The masterpiece Spy. ‘80s reboot? The underrated Ghostbusters. Neo-noir thriller? A Simple Favor. The Christmas movie must’ve stumped him.
Katrina (Emilia Clarke) grew up in Yugoslavia in the ‘90s where she sang George Michael in the church choir. In 2017 London she is struggling with health issues, career foibles and just basically taking care of herself.
Tom (Henry Golding) wanders into Katrina’s life like a rom-com hero. He’s random and somewhat inaccessible, but when he’s around he teaches Katrina to look up and to value herself.
Last Christmas is directed and performed with energy, but the material they are performing is lacking. I mean, he takes her on a date by breaking into an ice skating rink after hours. Really? The after hours ice skating date as if Rocky doesn’t exist?
Katrina works at a Christmas store as an elf for Santa (Michelle Yeoh). They rib each other not cleverly. Santa is right that Katrina is a screw-up, and we see quick slapstick of incidents where she destroyed people’s precious items through sheer carelessness. It’s missing the component where that becomes funny and not just yeah, Katrina is poison.
Santa has a romance with a nervous man (Peter Mygind). Why are they both nervous to talk to each other? Because the movie needs something cute. There’s no motivation for the characters to behave like babbling British rom-com characters except that they’ve been cast in one.
Then there’s Katrina’s relationship with her dysfunctional family. Katrina’s mother Petra (Emma Thompson, also co-writer) is overprotective since the illness, and from legitimate political persecution. Katrina and her sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) have a love-hate relationship that fluctuates whenever the plot needs it to.
Last Christmas is set to George Michael’s catalog, and it interprets the title song in the most literal way possible. By the time the connection is apparent the characters have long lost the audience. Then there’s a Brexit and racism subplot.
It’s strange, the conventions of Last Christmas would probably be celebrated if it aired on the Hallmark Channel. Fans of those movies relish all the cliches that make up those movies. Hallmark also does it with a knowing wink. Last Christmas takes itself just seriously enough that the Christmas cliches are no fun.
Last Christmas is in theaters Friday.