Every year a nice crop of movies features yuletide themes, with each one vying for the precious title of “Christmas classic.” While many are warmly received, it takes a lot more than a good reception to earn that elusive spot on your annual watchlist. (Sorry, FRED CLAUS. You had a fun concept but you didn’t make the cut.)
This year, a serious contender for your new favorite holiday movie arrives in November. Universal’s LAST CHRISTMAS might just be the gift you're looking for. If you’re wondering how this movie could make your heart grow three sizes, well, read on and find out.
That trailer is, objectively, very cute. The set-up is simple: Kate (Emilia Clarke) is a bumbling young woman who works as an elf at a Christmas shop in London, lorded over by an ornery owner (Michelle Yeoh). One day she meets the ridiculously handsome Tom (Henry Golding, who played Yeoh’s son in CRAZY RICH ASIANS) and they very clearly fall for each other. How could they not?
But it seems like there are additional layers to the story. Kate’s mother (Emma Thompson, who co-wrote the screenplay) is deeply involved with her life, and it turns out that Kate has a harrowing medical history. Then there's the question of exactly who Tom is, and how he really helps Emma move forward with her life. All that adds up to an adorable Christmastime romantic comedy that could have a lot more weight than it seems to possess at first.
One of the key elements of any holiday classic is a likable cast. Would you watch PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES every Thanksgiving if Steve Martin and John Candy weren’t the stars? Probably not! Likewise, without Jimmy Stewart, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE might just be pretty good, instead of, well, wonderful.
On that front, LAST CHRISTMAS is a surefire smash. Clarke was so good on "Game of Thrones," and it will be fun to see her open up and be funny. Henry Golding is a genuine movie star in the making, thanks in no small part to his performances in CRAZY RICH ASIANS and A SIMPLE FAVOR last year. All of the supporting cast is just terrific, too, from Thompson to Yeoh to the genuine legend Patti LuPone, who appears in an unspecified role.
If there’s someone who can wring a lot of both laughs and unexpected emotional depth out of a concept like this, it is director Paul Feig. He made the wonderful BRIDESMAIDS and directed Golding in last year’s wickedly delightful A SIMPLE FAVOR. He's a filmmaker who is attuned to female performances, who understands where to find nuance in even the broadest scenario, and who can craft visually inventive set pieces. (His action/comedy chops were on full display in the movie SPY.)
He also has some Christmas movie history – one of his first movies was 2006’s UNACCOMPANIED MINORS, an underrated, John Hughes-y story about a bunch of kids stuck in an airport at Christmas. You can just tell that he loves the season. (Feig actually shot LAST CHRISTMAS, um, last Christmas, to take advantage of the actual decorations in London.) That dedication will carry the film a long way to becoming a Christmas classic.
How many times have you set aside plans to watch one of the MAMA MIA movies just because you love the music of ABBA? A movie backed by tremendous pop songs has hooks that only great music can provide.
As the title would suggest, LAST CHRISTMAS is accompanied by a handful of George Michael songs. There will even be some previously-unreleased music on the soundtrack, which is very exciting. “Last Christmas,” by Michael's band Wham!, is one of those yearly favorites that are played on the radio endlessly – and for good reason. It’s really, really good. Michael was a wonderful songwriter, able to tap into emotional and playfulness in equal measure, just like Feig.
In other words, they’re a match made under the mistletoe. And having that musical backdrop could make LAST CHRISTMAS even more magical.
All images courtesy of Universal Pictures.