‘Last Christmas’ review: Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding can't save a cheesy, romantic plot

‘Last Christmas’ review: Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding can't save a cheesy, romantic plot

An average coming-of-age tale disguised as a light-hearted romantic comedy

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Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding play the happy couple in Last Christmas.
Photo: Universal Pictures

If you’re looking for a refreshing sweet Christmas romcom this holiday season, Last Christmas may not be the film for you. Despite the lovey-dovey meet-cute vibes of the trailer, Last Christmas is made less charming by its trite take on love and unfolds as a merely average heartwarming story about trauma, self-acceptance and social integration.

Set in London 2017, the film follows the life of Katarina “Kate” (Emilia Clarke), a George Michael fanatic who dresses as an elf in a Christmas store that is open all year round. After a near-death experience causes her to engage in a very self-destructive lifestyle, she resorts to returning home to live with her parents after she alienates her flatmates.

 

Things seem bleak, but she suddenly meets a charming but mysterious man named Tom (Henry Golding) outside the store where she works. A few more chance encounters with this endearing stranger and Kate falls head-over-heels in love. With his gentle encouragement, Kate decides to take steps to pursue her life-long dream of becoming a singer.

Though the movie is led by an attractive cast including Emilia Clarke (Me Before You), Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) and Academy Award-winning Emma Thompson, even they couldn’t save the cliche romantics in the movie.

The many encounters between Kate and Tom are no different to other cheesy, commonplace romcoms. It’s the same old formula where a poor girl meets a handsome, life-saver who quickly falls in love with her and ardently asks her out, and there’s also an adventurous trip to break into an ice-skating rink to give the girl a surprise. Clarke and Golding did a good job of playing a couple in love, but their chemistry would have been more authentic if their affections had developed in a more natural manner with less trite pick-up lines and dialogue.

While it’s a surprisingly cliche story between Kate and Tom in the first half of the movie, the story has an unpredictable plot twist which plays out with emotional depth in the second half which makes it less disastrous. Through the character arc of Kate, the personal struggles and family conflicts that Kate faces are quite authentic and relate to common situations today’s society.

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When a major illness changed Kate’s fate, she is tortured by the expectation to act “normal” from others after the illness. Therefore, she escapes from who she truly is and chooses to become her very own version of a free, songbird. She dodges calls from her mother and turns to alcohol and casual relationships to relieve her unsettledness. After meeting Tom, his angelic, selfless, optimistic worldview leads Kate to acknowledge the struggles she has been facing and she gradually steps out of her cage and re-integrates into society.

It’s also obvious that the movie aims to deliver something more than a love story with its social and political commentary. The film goes on to depict the disconnection and segregation in society and how such a mentality of “otherness” hurts people in the UK. In a scene where an expat gets told off on a bus by a stranger for not speaking English in the UK, it exposes the anti-immigrant sentiments in the society. Such lack of willingness to accept others and open distrust can also be seen from the longstanding disconnection in Kate’s family and the hopelessness of the person-in-charge of a local homeless shelter

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Featuring prominently the music of George Michael and Wham!, what's worth noting is that the producers apparently tried to match the songs with the plot, such as Heal the Pain when Tom is trying to comfort Kate at her most helpless moment. The plot twist at the end also gives a new meaning to the bittersweet classic Last Christmas.

If you are expecting it to be a quality romcom for Christmas, you will be disappointed as it’s neither funny nor romantic and there are many others that do better. But as a passable coming-of-age tale with light social commentary, it’s not a bad way to spend a night.

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