Last Christmas - 2019
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
If you were to tell me ten years ago that George Michael and Wham! were such cultural milestones that we would one day receive a Christmas movie based on their hit music, I would’ve said, “Duh, why doesn’t this exist already? Wham Rap! is life!”
Basing an entire movie on one song is apparently not a new concept. Hell, Last Christmas is the fourth movie this year alone to be based on a song, and surprisingly, only the second one I’ve seen. Apparently, there are many ways to adapt a three minute song into a movie: you could do a biopic like Bohemian Rhapsody, you could have it loosely based on the abstract idea of a single word like Yesterday, or you could oddly interpret the lyrics of the song in a very specific and technically literal way like Love Potion No 9. Three guesses at which approach Last Christmas takes.
This is a Christmas movie. Christmas plays a big part of the story, and that should be pretty evident. I don’t want to get into many specifics about the main plot, but I will say that the credits claiming that the story is based on the song Last Christmas, written by George Michael, are not wrong. It took a while for me to fully understand how and why, but in the end, it was clear. It took me by surprise though.
And that’s one huge thing I can say about this movie, is that it did take me by surprise. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the holidays; never have been, never will be. I’ve mostly seen Christmas as a big joke, which is why I do watch several bad Christmas movies once the season starts throwing them at me. Last Christmas is a Christmas rom-com and frankly, those are the two most formulaic genres you could pair up. Although the film is most definitely formulaic, it still broke up the formula enough to remain fresh. It has sub-plots on sub-plots for minor characters throughout (like most Christmas films do), but they never feel distracting and ultimately carry our lead through her character arc. I will get into the rom-com aspects in theme, but it is a refreshing change of pace to have a rom-com not feel so "romantic" as it does "self-improving". Admittedly, there were times I was worried that the “romantic interest”, portrayed in an unrealistically charming manner by Henry Golding, seemed a bit like a manic pixie dream girl to me, (which I thought was a trope that died out in the late 2000s after 500 Days of Summer thoroughly tore it apart), but his character really makes sense in the end, and it isn’t just because he is just as unrealistically charming in Crazy Rich Asians.
Also, I don’t know how to segue into this but Brexit is a sub-plot? I mean, I guess Brexit is a continuing sub-plot in real life as well. But just like real life, when they brought up Brexit in the movie, I was expecting more to come from it, and it just...didn’t? The movie is specifically set in 2017, so I thought that was why, but after a quick Google, I found that there is a very different, non-Brexit related incident that made the movie set in 2017. Could’ve done with more #Brexit, honestly.
This is a Christmas movie. Christmas looks great on camera. Unless you have no budget for production design, it takes sufficient effort to screw up the cinematography of a Christmas movie. Last Christmas had a budget, so it looks gorgeous. Admittedly, I don’t think there are any bold creative decisions in the technical side of things beyond, “hey look, it's pretty”, but hey, look… it is pretty. There are several low angle shots with huge amounts of headroom for no reason other than so that pretty lights can be seen, but hey… look… it IS pretty. If you set long chunks of your film in a Christmas store, then you have a new beautiful shot no matter which direction you look in. Convenient.
Paul Feig is a director I’ve always had mixed feelings about. I’ve loved his early TV work in Arrested Development and Bored to Death but directing for TV is very different to directing for film. The reason every episode of a TV show is directed by someone different is because no one is special, and everyone is interchangeable in TV. Film is different, and despite liking his films, I’ve always felt that they rely too heavily on improv. This has been an issue that I’ve also had with the majority of Judd Apatow’s work as well: he just lets the actors meander their way through a scene in the funniest way possible, but in doing so, loses all sub-text and motivation for the scene to travel with some momentum. I surprisingly didn’t find this issue with Last Christmas; any moments of improvisation are either really cleanly and well-handled, a first for Feig, or only used for a gag when a character leaves or enters a scene. These gags never get in the way and continue the flow of the story.
Performances are great all around, but nothing really stands out. Emilia Clarke doesn’t seem to be stretching herself in any creative way, but she does feel incredibly honest in the role of Katarina, a funny but completely broken human being. Emma Thompson, who also co-wrote the film, plays an excellent European migrant that feels almost too real. In the family scenes, I felt like I had been at that dinner before, all too many times.
The music is great. Obviously. No more needed.
This is a Christmas movie. I feel like I’m getting repetitive, but hey, it is a Christmas movie. Christmas movies are generally all about their theme: you have characters coming together, bettering themselves, learning the true meaning of Christmas. From Lethal Weapon to The Grinch, it’s all here and it’s all expected. There isn’t much to be said about the themes in a Christmas movie unless the movie does them horribly wrong, which Last Christmas doesn’t.
Really, there’s only one thing I can talk about and it ties deeply into the romantic plot of the story. I can’t give too much away, but I can say that it’s incredibly impressive to have a romantic comedy movie where the romance part really doesn’t matter at all and the film is actually all about Katarina learning to love herself. And not that phoney baloney, “you can’t be loved until you love yourself,” bullsh*t. It's genuinely just her learning to love herself, and that’s what matters. It doesn’t seem like a big thing, but when her motivation for self-improvement doesn't turn out to be so that she can be with someone else - it is just self-improvement - it honestly touched me in a way that no romantic story ever could.
Also, no idea how to segue into this either, but with Brexit on the mind, it is interesting that every relationship shown in the film is an interracial one, with the exception of Katarina’s Yugoslavian parents. It never draws attention to itself like Brexit does, but it is always there...Could’ve done with more #Brexit though.
This is a Christmas movie. Not only that, this is a movie based on the work of George Michael and Wham!, and if you have a movie based on the work of George Michael and Wham!, then you best be damn sure to include the most notable of their music. Sure, you’ve got Faith, you’ve got Freedom, you’ve got Last Christmas (you would hope to have that much at least), but where the hell is Wham Rap!? Why would you not include that? Is it because it’s embarrassing and is probably not only one of the worst Wham! songs ever, but also the most awkward rap ever produced? Is it because it came out during a time when every single band was trying to do a rap because rap was cool, but no one knew how to utilise this new fad? Because these are all just more reasons it should’ve been in the movie!
I mean, there are so many moments in the movie, where they paraphrase lyrics as dialogue, but to never once bring up Wham Rap!? Katarina is established as being a huge HUGE George Michael fan before the company logos are even over, with a young Katarina seen singing Heal the Pain in a church choir (guessing this is before people found out about George Michael’s sexuality?). And sure, she seems to like “good” George Michael songs, but a true fan loves the bad ones too, and boy, it’s all the movie needs to push itself into being one of the greats.
AND IT HAD SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES! There are moments where it would be nice if someone could touch someone else's body, there are moments hearts are being given away, but not once did boys in leather, kiss girls in pearls. Katarina is all party nights and neon lights; she hit the floors and hit the heights. The whole film is about the two main questions of the Wham Rap!: Does Katarina want to work? No. Is she gonna have fun? Yeah. SO WHERE IS MY WHAM RAP!?
If they even mentioned it, or referenced it, I would’ve known that the character motivations are references to the lyrics, however there isn’t one reference, so I have to assume they don’t care. But I guess, this is what the Wham Rap! is also about. Give a Wham!, give a bam, but don’t give a damn.
Touché movie. Touché.
0/10 needs more Wham Rap!