Sold as a being built around the music of George Michael and Wham! — which it decidedly is not — Last Christmas delivers pretty much everything a rom-com connoisseur could desire. Hung in the loosest possible sense on Michael’s music, it sees 20-something Kate (played by Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke) muddling through one of life’s major troughs in the wake of a life-changing incident.
While she’s in the midst of wallowing in misery, eye-rolling her way through daily life and indulging in unhealthy habits, out of nowhere the dreamily clean-cut Tom (Henry Golding) appears to whisk her around London, opening her eyes to his glass-half-full perspective in the process.
What ensues is a bonkers mash-up caper through laugh-out-loud gags (not always executed well), heart-wrenching insights into mental health struggles and true-to-canon romance as envisioned by Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and writer, actress and all-round icon Emma Thompson.
Clarke’s acting yo-yos from great to terrible but when she’s good, she nails it, like in a standout moment when Kate opens up to Tom, voicing for the first time since a life-saving heart transplant the imposter syndrome and depression she’s been battling.
The touching scene sees the protagonist breaking down as she finally pauses to comprehend what she’s been through and how her approach to life has been impacted.
Thompson’s sensitivity to rapidly-changing attitudes in 2019 runs throughout the film but is most apparent as Kate bares her chest to show Tom the thick scar left by her surgery.
Quietly he reaches forward, steady and empathetic before the writer adds in a nod to the simplicity of consent as he pauses to ask, ‘Is this okay?’ before touching.
Moving from weighty issues to chirpy cheer as abruptly as Last Christmas, let’s talk about Golding, who brings a genuine warmth to the leading man role, snatching it from the jaws of unbearable tweeness.
A light touch is what’s needed for a rollercoaster script this hammy and Golding has it (once he, along with the rest of the movie, has spent the first 15 minutes warming up).
Last Christmas feels like Thompson and Feig playing a tug-of-war, the creative power flipping from one to the other so that, at any given moment, it’s possible to tell whose turn it is and who’s in the driving seat.
Some of the jokes land big time. Many come, refreshingly, from Clarke and a PC-tempering one-liner delivered divinely by Thompson to lighten an anti-Brexit monologue. Anything Thompson, as Kate’s Yugoslavian-born mother, says, for that matter, is gold dust.
The overriding feeling is one of whiplash as the film leaps unimpeded from tragedy to hilarity via madcap setups and lashings of camp ridiculousness.
The absurdity of it all makes sense when considered in the context of Feig’s previous outlet, the ludicrously brilliant A Simple Favour, and his propensity for light cringe humour as evidenced in Bridesmaids.
Clarke’s first big post-Game of Thrones move is heavy on inclusivity and morality lessons but loses no sense of humour in the process, dodging preachiness with ease.
Last Christmas also captures a fairytales-like London where it snows fluffy flakes and bus drivers let you hang half out of the door taking your sweet time saying goodbye to your boyfriend.
While there is but a tenuous link to Wham! star Michael (Kate’s a big fan, apparently, and plays his songs sometimes) there’s more than enough Christmas to go round.
Kate’s job in a year-round Christmas shop, run by the wonderful Michelle Yeoh as ‘Santa’ and peddling the kitschiest of wares provides reasoning for her spending the majority of the movie dressed like semi-sexy elf, while Covent Garden is decked in thousands of lights, which certainly don’t harm the romance of it all.