I have conflicted thoughts about “Last Christmas.” It’s hard to write a review of a Christmas movie when the main storylines that define it don’t have anything to do with Christmas. I’m not hard to please when it comes to rom-coms, but the movie was marketed poorly and did not reflect what it actually was. Instead of a cute Christmas romantic comedy, “Last Christmas” is a journey of self-discovery. It is also a tale that tries to weave social commentary on homelessness, migration and LGBTQ+ acceptance together without spending enough time on any one topic to be successful. Overall, I would not see “Last Christmas” again, but I would recommend it if you like surprising plot twists that answer all your questions at the last minute.
“Last Christmas” follows Kate (Emilia Clarke), a twenty-six-year-old immigrant from the former Yugoslavia who now lives in England working at a year-round Christmas shop despite her love for singing. She hates her job, has a complicated relationship with her family and continues to make bad decision after bad decision despite the warnings of everyone around her. Enter Tom Webster (Henry Golding), a goofy, lovable saint of a human who won’t give up on Kate. As the two grow closer, Kate begins to let Tom in and learns to open up to the possibilities of life after almost dying of a heart disease.
Despite how cheesy this description sounds, the movie had the potential to be more. It just did not live up to that potential. My first issue with “Last Christmas” was the pacing. The movie starts by introducing Kate’s life in rushed snapshots in an attempt to show how messy and wrecked of a life she has. The trend continues from introducing Tom, to meeting and trying to understand her family, to setting up the social commentary. Each piece of the puzzle needed more time to develop to be believable. The romance between Kate and Tom felt rushed; don’t believe the previews that rave about the duo’s instant chemistry. The two go from strangers to friends to Tom being the only one Kate feels like she can be herself around. Kate’s relationship with her family — especially with her mother (Emma Thompson) — gets explained as strained and is promptly fixed in what feels like five minutes (though it was actually two weeks in the film).
The social commentary aspect of “Last Christmas” had more issues than pacing. While I admire the film’s attempt to bring in important topics to a film that will most likely reach a lot of people, it was unsuccessful in its execution. Homelessness cannot be solved by one girl deciding to be kind to strangers, singing in the streets and becoming friends with a pair of female police officers. Xenophobia and racism cannot be fixed by letting a white man yell at a couple for not speaking English on the bus and leave without incident, and then make everything better by speaking to them once in their native language saying that they are welcome there. It doesn’t help queer couples to out them to their parents and help them make up a few weeks later. If the film had chosen one topic to focus on and flesh out the issue and find ways to make a concrete difference, I would have been more on board.
Finally, “Last Christmas” should have focused more on Kate’s journey of self-discovery instead of the romance. It does not sit well that all her problems seem to solve themselves after Tom gives her the advice to “look up once in a while.” Tom as a romantic lead was not really necessary to the overarching theme of recovery from illness and making the decision for yourself to work to get better.
Overall, “Last Christmas” had more potential than the previews and marketing gave it credit for, but the pacing and topics that it focuses on make it less successful in accomplishing all the goals it sets out to discuss. While it would have changed the overall tone, I think this movie would have been better not as a Christmas romcom, but as a deep dive into how patients, after recovery from a deadly illness, learn to move on with their lives and find meaning. On the flip side, if it had leaned solely into the Christmas romcom and left out the muddled social commentary and awkward pacing, it could have accomplished the goal that the advertisers set out. Oh well. At least I got to hear Emma Thompson call tiramisu “lesbian pudding.”