Kate (Emilia Clarke) is in a bad place. Stuck in a rut of bad decision-making, she is quickly losing the patience of her friends, family, and boss Santa (Michelle Yeoh) with every new selfish choice. But this film is a romantic comedy, set at Christmastime no less, and a change of heart is precisely what the doctor ordered. Right in the midst of some of her darkest days, Kate meets Tom (Henry Golding), a charming and adventurous wanderer who has thrown off the shackles of cell phone addiction and thus begins a new relationship that will challenge her and force her to confront the person she has become.
It shouldn’t be surprising that “Last Christmas” follows a pretty formulaic trajectory. What really sets apart films in this genre isn’t the plot, but rather the writing and cast chemistry, and it just so happens that those are two things “Last Christmas” does very well. Director Paul Feig is known for his comedies, and this may be the best of the bunch. Writers Emma Thompson, Bryony Kimmings, and Greg Wise infuse the film with some wonderfully hilarious dialogue throughout, while also touching on modern-day issues in London such as the effects of Brexit on immigrants and homelessness. Words are only as good as the actors delivering them, of course, and the entire cast of “Last Christmas” is up to the task. Clarke and Golding share a touching, slow-building romantic relationship that feels natural and is easy to root for, but the comedic chemistry between Clarke and Yeoh is definitely a highlight as well. Nearly every interaction between the two led to audience laughter, as did much of Emma Thompson’s work as Petra, Kate’s Yugoslavian mother.
Another strength of the film is its use of music. Kate is a singer and superfan of George Michael, whose songs appear frequently, mixed in among various recognizable Christmas tunes. It makes for an incredibly enjoyable soundtrack that had audience members quietly singing along throughout. And while not as often-used as the songs, Theodore Shapiro’s score is aptly moving in the film’s most tender moments.
Despite its endearing story, there is one major event that occurs in “Last Christmas” which will be extremely divisive and could single-handedly break the film entirely for some moviegoers. If you’re able to roll with it, though, the film offers a charming and inspirational tale of learning to love others above self, and how that can change lives for the better.
“Last Christmas” is the kind of movie that will put a smile on your face, and it rings in the holiday season early this fall providing one of the sweetest rom-coms in years. Its brisk pacing, balance of emotionally touching moments with gut-busting comedy, fantastic cast chemistry, and sing-along worthy soundtrack make for a fun Christmas film that will be in many a family’s holiday movie rotation for years to come.
Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.