Oh how even the mightiest can fall.
Among the two-time Oscar winner, the "GoT" alum and last year's sexiest leading man, it's hard to say who falls the hardest in "Last Christmas", a schmalzy faux-holiday cheer comedy that parades itself as the next big Christmas film mainly because our lead Kate, played by ex-Daenerys Targaryen Emilia Clarke, is dressed as an elf for 80% of the runtime and the George Michael song upon which the film is based plays at least ten times to the point where you'll spit in the nearest bowl of eggnog next time you hear it droning on somewhere.
Co-written by Emma Thompson, highly revered writer-director-actress and the aforementioned Oscar darling, "Last Christmas" wants to be a highbrow Hallmark holiday TV-movie with a talented cast and larger production value. Actually, that might be exactly what it achieves. Without a clear-cut tone, it oscillates frequently between gag-driven and a bottomless pit of emotions.
Kate (Clarke) is a 20-something living in London, trying to make it as a West End performer. She hasn't been able to perform the way she did before she "got ill" a year ago, and her life has spun out of control because of it. She's been kicked out on the street by her flatmate and can't stay in the good graces of her friends long enough to be granted more than a night or two on their couch.
Kate has to don an elf uniform and spread yuletide greetings all year round for her job at a Christmas shop owned by the strict but motherly Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Yeoh, with such a majestic presence on screen, is underutilized and forced into a ridiculous side plot involving a stranger who becomes her instant love connection that feels contrived, pointless and downright bizarre.
As she attempts to clean the perpetual mascara that is running down her face representative of her crumbling life, Kate encounters Tom (ever-delicious Henry Golding) outside the shop. Their meet-cute, of course, entails bird poop falling into her eye and Tom, learning of her temporary homelessness, suggesting she spend the night at the shelter around the corner.
"You've Got Mail", eat your heart out.
What follows is Tom and Kate kind of dating without ever building a clear picture as to who Tom is and whether he actually has feelings for her or pops up in her life from some unseen obligation. He's like a life-size android: he may look good (damn good) and real, but he can't seem to pass even the simplest Pinocchio test of being a real boy. Don't get me wrong, Golding is fun to look at. He has a charming smile and an alarmingly solid screen presence. It isn't his fault the role feels about as believable as Frosty the Snowman.
Over a matter of weeks, Kate has a change of heart and learns the true meaning of Christmas, which is to say, despite seemingly zero interest in helping others before, she becomes inordinately active at the shelter - even organizing a talent show that will benefit its patrons - and reunites with her estranged family including her overbearing mother (Emma Thompson) who is everyone's weak-nerved grandmother with a comically thick Eastern block accent and extensive collection of head scarves.
As the film progresses, you can feel the twist waiting to drop. You know it's coming; you just don't know which rom-com cliche it's going to be. Turns out, it's all of them, and when it's revealed, it is very hard not to roll your eyes and imagine Nora Ephron turning in her grave.
If you're in the mood for all the humor that can be squeezed out of a millennial in a downward spiral dressed as Santa's helper, then perhaps you can sit through "Last Christmas" in earnest enjoyment. For everyone else, there are plenty other holiday movies that remain timeless, are easy to stream and won't leave you with a horrible George Michael-induced hangover.