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Here’s the thing about holiday rom-coms: They are their own genre. So much so that Netflix has begun to pump out a special batch of this fare every year and to great fervour (think The Princess Switch and the upcoming and highly anticipated The Princess Switch: Switched Again). It’s easy to digest and heart-warming stuff. Fans of the genre are well-aware that what they’re witnessing isn’t something that would make Martin Scorsese proud. And that’s fine. It’s the cinematic version of easy listening.
As the first bit of Christmas mush to grace our screens, Last Christmas hits every cliché on its way to fitting perfectly into this category — and because of this, it’s an absolute delight.
The film follows the tale of a woman named Kate (Emilia Clarke), who works as an elf at a year-round Christmas novelty shop (owned by “Santa,” a.k.a. a typically glamorous Michelle Yeoh) in London. We catch Kate in more of a Scrooge phase, however, as she’s just left home with only her elf costume, a single suitcase, and no clue of where she’ll spend the night, or the night after that.
She also has childhood dreams of becoming a professional singer, and yet has never come close to making it. Like most rom-com heroines in the first half of the movie, she’s a mess: She’s late for everything, she’s clumsy, she has bad luck, her mascara is always smudged — and she’s very bad at her day-job. She actually might not even be that great at her dream job, either.
In walks a handsome stranger named Tom (Henry Golding of Crazy Rich Asians) from out of nowhere. That’s not figurative origin. He literally comes out of nowhere: He has no phone, it’s unclear what he does for a living, no one else seems to know who he is, it’s impossible to get a hold of him and he often disappears for days at a time. The reasons behind this involve a tearjerking twist that probably won’t be surprising to anyone who has ever tapped their foot to Wham’s “Last Christmas.”
Tom’s purpose, however, is easier to describe and is the opposite of a twist. Like a kind of Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future, he’s there to rescue Kate from her boredom and show her the beauty in the small details of life — and, hopefully, give her something that reignites her passion and reunites her with her family.
There is no denying that Last Christmas is practically indecipherable from, say, Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles or The Christmas Inheritance. (Actually, it probably should have just been made for Netflix.) But it doesn’t seem fair to write off an entire film or genre simply because it’s fluffy or even predictable. Last Christmas knows it isn’t Notting Hill, and it feels like it succeeds at exactly what it set out to do.
Written by Emma Thompson (who also stars as Kate’s kooky Yugoslavian mother with the kind of thick accent played just for laughs), and directed by fellow comedy great Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat), it’s a charming script with a glossy finish, despite feeling contrived. Clarke, though overly clownish at times, is endlessly charismatic and enjoyable to watch — she seems, actually, more primed for a career in romance than fantasy-adventure — while Golding makes for a calming scene-partner to her chaotic energy. It’s all accented with George Michael’s voice, which soundtracks much of the film, along with a new song from the late singer.
With that treat alone, Last Christmas succeeds at what fans of its ilk want it to be: A simple, sweet rom-com romp through London around Christmastime that makes you laugh, makes you cry and doesn’t weigh heavy on the heart for more than an hour.
If you’re thinking about it any harder, it isn’t for you.
Last Christmas opens across Canada Nov. 8.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019