Don’t give “Last Christmas” your heart

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Don’t give “Last Christmas” your heart

“Last Christmas” stars Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke

“Last Christmas” stars Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke

Movie Poster via Universal

“Last Christmas” stars Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke

Movie Poster via Universal

Movie Poster via Universal

“Last Christmas” stars Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke

By Matthew Monroy, Staff Writer

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If you find yourself subjected to your uncle’s uncomfortable pro-Trump rants for the umpteenth time this Christmas and simply need a distraction, watch “Last Christmas.” But if you’re one of those weirdos who listens to Christmas music before Thanksgiving and really want something to help get into the holiday mood now, you’re better off giving that Mariah Carey Christmas album another spin.

“Last Christmas,” named after the Wham! song of the same name, centers on Kate (Emilia Clarke, in her first post-“Game of Thrones” role,) a scattered, George Michael fangirl. Kate divides her time between crashing on friends’ couches and working as a “Santa’s elf” employee at a London Christmas decor shop overseen by her crotchety boss (Michelle Yeoh).

 

When she’s not working, she spends most of her time drinking at bars and taking random men to whatever place she may call home for that night. Kate is also an aspiring actress and singer, another layer of her cliche “my life is a mess” character. Her auditions are about as successful as her dating life, though, which is revealed through a montage of her inventive methods of accidentally wreaking havoc in her exes’ lives. Her family’s disappointed in her, her sister is more successful than her, and she’s one slipup away from losing her job — it’s a cycle of self-destructive behavior that Kate seems forever doomed to be caught in.

That is, until Tom (Henry Golding) mysteriously appears outside of Kate’s workplace. Tom is the polar opposite of Kate — organized, well-mannered, clean-cut and even a regular volunteer at the local homeless shelter. He’s the type of guy that casually says things like “You’re gonna make mistakes and that’s ok.” He’s perfect — too perfect, in fact, something that the film uses later on, in the supposedly “smart” twist.

The film follows the typical rom-com structure — girl meets guy, girl and guy fall in love — and eventually Kate’s stubborn heart gives way to Tom’s romantic gestures. They have fun together — until Tom has to randomly go away for a couple of days. Just as mysterious as his appearance in Kate’s life are his sudden departures, causing her to grow suspicious of who Tom really is.

“Last Christmas” is not a horrible movie. It’s also not a good movie. If you’re looking for something cute, trivial and lighthearted, by all means, watch it. Maybe if the film had been released a little closer to Christmas, it’s badness would have blended in with other movies of its ilk, but its early November release date makes it seem like director Paul Feig really bought into its cheesy concept. Which is a shame, given Feig has proven himself to be a talented director in both smart thrillers — “A Simple Favor” — and hilarious comedies — “Bridesmaids.”

“Last Christmas” is neither smart nor overly funny, both of which it tries too hard to be. Everyone can enjoy a nice, lighthearted Christmas movie every now and then. And yes, everyone in the cast gives good performances, with Clarke and Golding as the highlights. The main characters are both lovable in their own ways, Kate as a chaotic mess and Tom as a charming foil to her dysfunction — something that comes through the best in their never-ending back-and-forth arguments. But it’s when the movie tries to be smarter than it actually is that it fails.

The film attempts to surprise its audience with a twist so sappy that you would think there was another revelation coming to reverse the previous one. To make matters worse, it’s revealed through a tacky montage that basically spoon-feeds the audience the “big reveal.” It does a disservice to Kate as well, reducing her character to a mere recipient of love with no personality. Obviously aspects of Kate’s former lifestyle weren’t mentally or physically healthy, but part of what made her so charming was her snark, which the film completely erases in favor of making her a bland character who’s forever indebted to her boyfriend.

“Last Christmas” tries to balance all this with a heavy-handed, awkwardly inserted pro-immigrant message. Kate is from Yugoslavia, and at one point her mother, Adelia (Emma Thompson) watches on TV as protesters march with vitriolic signs about immigrants. The movie rests on her mother’s sadness and fear for a moment and then immediately moves on without addressing it in a substantial way again. It’s a well-intentioned idea but completely out of place in the movie’s already cluttered plot.

As if in one last-ditch attempt to conjure up some jolly Christmas spirit, the movie ends with a stereotypical “everybody’s together and singing and we all love each other” scene. It’s a tacky ending in the same vein as a low-budget Netflix original rom-com. Any sort of love and warmth that it’s trying to convey is too blatant in its attempts to pull on your heartstrings to conjure up real feelings.

“Last Christmas” works better as a messy collage of other, better made movies than as a self-standing film. It’s a weird mashup, a sort of “Return to Me” meets “The Sixth Sense but during Christmas” mix. It’s fun to watch for the most part, but then completely fails to deliver with its lackluster ending. Listen to George Michael’s advice on this one and save your attention for someone special.

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