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Last Christmas •••

Starring: Madison Ingoldsby, Emma Thompson, Boris Isakovic
Director: Paul Feig
Screenplay: George Michael, Emma Thompson
Comedy/Drama/Romance, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 103 minutes
Release Date: November 8, 2019



(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, I checked Santa’s list (twice) and we have this Christmas movie to review. Ready to deck the halls?

This movie has a lot of heart – and that is part of the problem with it. Let’s recap.

We meet a young woman named Kate (Emilia Clarke), who works in London at a Christmas shop but is chronically late and irresponsible. She is also currently homeless and is looking for a place to spend the night. We also learn that Kate recently underwent a successful heart transplant. One day at the shop, she notices a man outside looking through the window at her. They begin to chat and she learns that his name is Tom (Henry Golding) and that he volunteers at a local soup kitchen.

Try as she might, she can’t get Tom to text with her – he claims that he left his phone in the cupboard. Later, she finally visits his apartment in a state because she left the door open at the shop and it was looted. He consoles her, puts her to bed, but doesn’t take advantage of her. Later, she returns to the apartment only to find that Tom had died a year ago. And… there’s a cell phone in the cupboard. Final reveal – he was the man died and donated his heart so that she might live.

Greg, Last Christmas is a lightweight semi-rom-com that somehow won my heart. My Game of Thrones fanboy crush on Emilia Clarke may be partly responsible, but there’s more going on here than her winning smile and explosive eyebrows. Like many effective comedies (such as Big, Freaky Friday, and Groundhog Day) this is one of those stories that is set in motion by a tiny bit of magic from a mysterious source. Our hero Kate is in desperate need for a total life makeover. She’s floundering, damaged, and selfish. In the most cheesy way possible, the ghost of her heart donor opens Kate’s heart and exerts a transformative effect on her. Not sure we’ve ever had a ghost as a mentor, but hey why not? If it can work for Ebeneezer Scrooge, it can work for Emilia Clarke.

So I’d say that this movie works by nicely pooling together elements of several classic movies. In addition to the films I’ve mentioned, there’s a little bit of The Sixth Sense when we realize that Emilia “sees dead people” that no one else sees. There’s a bit of Ghost with Kate being romantically pursued and protected by an apparition. And there’s a large dose of Groundhog Day, too. Like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, Kate only becomes transformed when she hits her “rock bottom” and spills her guts to her love interest.

Once again, we see how love can be a transformative agent in storytelling. We see love’s transformative role in modern movies such as Interstellar and Maleficent, not to mention old classics such as A Christmas Carol and Groundhog Day. So when we consider the message of Last Christmas, we must emphasize the power of love to open our hearts. Tom’s love inspires Kate to volunteer at the homeless shelter. Her own personal transformation helps transform the homeless, who now have meals, clothes, and a chance at life. Moreover, once transformed, Kate convinces a socially awkward older man to date her boss, thus demonstrating the adage that “transformed people transform people”.

Scott, I was mostly bored with this film and guessed the ending quickly. The fact that Kate never really interacts with Tom, that no one ever sees him, that he always arrives just when she needs him… it was all ghostly transparent. I did appreciate the bit of Miracle on 34th Street when Kate finds Tom’s cell phone – much as the little girl found Kringle’s cane in the “perfect” house.

However, the ending made me feel a bit squeamish. Tom’s ghost is stalking Kate because… she has his heart in her chest. And he’s basically dead so that Kate can live. And they become romantically linked through his “donation.” On top of it all is the pounding recurrence of George Michael’s “Last Christmas” (which this film is named for) in which he croons “I gave you my heart.” Which makes for an amazingly gross pun of epic proportions. Imagine, then that the lyrics to the song were sung by Tom: “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart. The very next day, you gave it away. This year, to save me from tears, I’ll give it to somebody special.”

If we were to follow the song to it’s logical conclusion, Kate must get her life in order, or Tom is going to reclaim his organ and transplant it into someone more worthy. This is an incredibly grizzly subtext to a Christmas movie. I left the theater both queasy and in tears from laughing wondering if this were an elaborate Christmas joke on the audience. I am leaning toward the joke.

Haha! Very nice observation about the song lyrics and their unintended dark implications here, Greg. Not sure I want to see the bloody sequel you’ve suggested.

Last Christmas is a semi-delicious stew that is one part rom-com mixed with another part magical fantasy. Emilia Clarke shows off her acting chops and versatility, proving that she’s far more than a mere Mother of Dragons. Clarke’s heartfelt portrayal of an emotionally injured woman capable of healing was emotionally satisfying to behold. Yes, there is a lot of cheese in this stew, which didn’t really enhance the recipe, but I left the theater fully satiated. I give Last Christmas 3 Reels out of 5.

Kate’s hero’s journey is clearly delineated, beginning with her encounter with Tom, which jettisons her toward becoming more responsible not to mention morally and socially enlightened. Kate grows up, receiving help from not only from Tom but also getting wise mentoring from her curmudgeonly shopkeeper boss. Kate’s heroic transformation is enjoyable and moving to behold, and I give her heroism 4 Hero points out of 5.

The message here is the very true and uplifting idea that we are all connected, all “one”, and that we had better look out for each other because that’s how we all survive and thrive in this challenging world. Kate needed Tom’s heart – literal and figurative – to survive, and all the hungry and homeless people in the food shelters need help from us all to survive and make it as well. Love saves us all and transforms us all. I give this message 4 Message points out of 5.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

Scott, last year I gave this film my heart, and the very next day, they took it away – the film that is. It closed the day after I watched it. I can’t garner enough interest in this film to recommend it any more than a bad Hallmark Christmas movie. The film was written by Emma Thompson (who in my eyes can do no wrong) who appears to have studied at the feet of  Richard Curtis (who penned such classics as About Time, Love, Actually, and Notting Hill). Still, this is about as average as a film can get, so I grudgingly give it 3 out of 5 Reels.

Our hero Kate does the usual Scrooge slash Grinch conversion. Tom is the usual cheerful angel (ala It’s a Wonderful Life’s Clarence). Eh… 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The message: be a good person or I’ll give your heart to someone better… is still grizzly and not terribly Christmas-y. I give it just 2 out of 5 Message points.

Movie: Message: Heroes: