Poor George Michael. His good name has been dragged through the tinsel-flecked, bauble-strewn mud. Last Christmas is an unmitigated disaster. It is a stupendously saccharine, credulity-defying stinker, so bad it may herald the premature death of Emilia Clarke’s burgeoning acting career. It casually invokes the name of the late pop star by claiming, in UK publicity at least, to be inspired by his music. What it does in practice is take a shovel to his grave site and a flame to his back catalogue of records. It is a movie of such breath-taking inanity, one would assume that Michael’s estate will be hurriedly undertaking legal action to have any mention of his name removed from the posters.
Emilia Clarke is Kate (known formerly as Katarina) a diet-Fleabag hot mess who works in a Covent Garden Christmas shop dressed as an elf. A promising young singer in her native Yugoslavia, she appears to have squandered much of her talent and now flits around London getting shitfaced, alienating her friends and pissing off her over-achieving big sister.
She is not where she wants to be in life and isn’t afraid of letting people know, literally shouting: “Why is my life so shit?” when she gets shat on by a bird. Her boss at the shop, Santa (Michelle Yeoh) tell her to buck her ideas up, but it’s not until she meet-cutes with Tom (Henry Golding) that she starts to take stock of her undergraduate lifestyle of shagging and takeaway burgers. He is a mawkish, pirouetting boob of a lad, seemingly unable to wipe the smug grin of his face as he encourages her to frolic around the West End, enjoying the little things that make life worth living, with his patronising mantra: “look up!”.
Polar opposites attract, they say, so while she is a hungover tangle of wet hair and running mascara, he is an impeccably-dressed latter-day saint; whipping around London on his bicycle, sober as a judge, spending his evenings helping the homeless and the needy, while she staggers out of pubs at closing time.
So, the Spirit of Christmas and Consumer of Spirits flutter their eyelashes at each other to ram home a maudlin and simplistic message about charity.
Its heart is so very, very clearly in the right place, but it’s executed with such slushiness and such an air of predictability that it makes one want to swear off Christmas altogether. A clunky and plain-as-day narrative device which riffs on It’s a Wonderful Life fools nobody, but is forgivable right up until the moment it turns into a shockingly literal interpretation of a Wham! banger. It’s moment of confirmation prompted audible sniggers of incredulity in the screening I attended.
Clarke and Golding are, as a couple, not the Christmas cracker you’d hope they’d be. Clarke has seemingly decided that every facet of every emotion is to be conveyed by a permanent rictus grin and a wild flailing of the eyebrows. Golding, meanwhile, has clearly been a naughty boy this year and received a lump of coal from the casting elves. You can sense the energy in his performance but his character is so inherently unlikable, so irredeemably soppy, that’s difficult not to grind one’s teeth whenever he’s on-screen. Poor guy.
Emma Thompson’s script looks to connect the “meaning of Christmas” with modern-day austerity politics in a way that never quite gels, despite the fundamentally agreeable sentiment. A couple of anti-Brexit scenes, whatever your politics and stance on the issue, feel ham-fisted and out-of-place. Meanwhile, a bizarre musical moment seems to suggest that, what the homeless of this world need most is to be gifted the opportunity to produce and star in a pantomime, complete with Britain’s Got Talent-style audition process, rather than, say, actual support from the state.
Precisely nothing in this sugary part-fairy tale, part-swipe at austerity works. Easter can’t come soon enough.
Romance, Drama | USA, 2019 | 12A | 15th November 2019 (UK) | Universal Pictures | Dir.Paul Feig | Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson, Michelle Yeoh,