Film & Television

‘Last Christmas,’ An Imperfectly Satisfying Holiday Treat

Kate wants to pursue a career in show business, but works as an elf in “Yuletide Wonderful,” a gaudy year-round Christmas shop, run by the sublimely sarcastic Santa (Yeoh). Kate is the very essence of her own worst enemy. She is perpetually late, eats junk food, drinks to excess, and — to avoid her overbearing mother — couch surfs with less than enthusiastic friends, or ends up waking in the bed of yet another one-night stand. She isn’t particularly nice, either. In fact, it is a credit to Clarke that she remains as appealing as she does, given her reckless behavior and misanthropic attitude.

One day, she meets an irresistible stranger, Tom (Golding), whose generosity of spirit runs counter to her own cynicism. At first, he seems to bump into her often and unexpectedly. He shows her London’s hidden gardens, and teaches her to skate after breaking into a rink after hours. Soon she seeks him out, visiting and eventually volunteering at the homeless shelter where he claims to work. As they grow closer, she reveals that she had nearly died from a heart condition the year before, and that she knows she should feel grateful to be alive, but she can’t. Her self-destructive behavior — as well as her mother’s constant worrying — suddenly makes sense.

Although Tom remains enigmatic, he begins to have an effect on Kate. She makes amends to her sister (after cruelly outing her at a family dinner). She makes peace with her parents and moves back in. She begins to take better care of herself. She works some matchmaker magic on behalf of Santa and a handsome Danish customer. She responds with compassion to a xenophobic attack on a London bus. And she devotes herself wholeheartedly to the shelter, first singing on the street to collect donations, and then helping them put on a Christmas pageant (which results in a somehow familiar but charming montage of auditions, followed later by a joyful performance).

Aside from the film’s title, the movie could certainly have been made without the George Michael soundtrack. But for those who loved his music (and even for those who may be new to it), Michael’s songs add a wistful and poetic thread. Early on, we learn that Kate is a huge fan (her girlhood room is covered in posters of the photogenic singer), and Thompson readily admits that his work was a big inspiration to her.

“I got really enthused and we started to write, and then of course he had that tragic early death in 2016, on Christmas Day,” she explains. “So, we lost him, and I miss him so much. I wish he was here because I know he’d love it, because the film’s like being hugged, and all of his music — we’ve got 15 of his songs, including a new one at the end — is so cool. ‘Heal the Pain,’ which is my favorite of his songs, it’s like it was written for the movie. He said that.”

The lyrics Thompson refers to tell Kate’s story in a nutshell:

You tell me you’re cold on the inside
How can the outside world
Be a place that your heart can embrace
Be good to yourself
‘Cause nobody else
Has the power to make you happy

This is exactly what Tom teaches Kate, and what she comes to understand about her illness and her future.

There is no question but that Tom serves as Kate’s very own Angel Clarence, showing her what a wonderful life it really is. But will they get their happy ending? At the risk of spoiling what may be obvious to some, but was a genuine (and genuinely moving) surprise to me, I will leave that for you to find out.

 

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