[Screen It]


(2019) (Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding) (PG-13)

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Romantic Comedy: Affected by a past medical issue and being estranged from her family, a young woman's life turns around when she meets an optimistic young man who's determined to change her outlook on life.
Kate (EMILIA CLARKE) is a 26-year-old woman who lives in London but has nowhere to stay, what with being kicked out by her roommate, her behavior making her a bad house guest for her friends, and being estranged from her parents, Petra (EMMA THOMPSON) and Ivan (BORIS ISAKOVIC), and sister, Marta (LYDIA LEONARD), all of whom she fled with from the former Yugoslavia when Kate was just a child.

An aspiring actress, she currently works in a year-round Christmas shop run by a woman she only knows as Santa (MICHELLE YEOH), but isn't happy there or with most any other aspect of her life, all going back to a serious medical condition from her past. But things change when she happens to meet Tom (HENRY GOLDING), a dashing, charming and optimistic young man who makes it his mission to change her outlook on life.

Yet, even as that works and she tries to reconnect with her family and begins volunteering at a local homeless shelter, her romantic longings for Tom end up in conflict with his long, initially unexplained absences.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
When it comes to reviewing movies, I both love and hate surprise twists that occur as any given movie plays out. If done correctly -- meaning most if not all people won't see them coming -- they're something to behold, such as when we learned what was really happening in "The Sixth Sense." Of course, M. Night Shyamalan then got hooked on delivering such surprises in subsequent offerings and the search for clues letting us guess what they'd be ended up being distracting.

From a critique standpoint, however, they create a dilemma in that you can't -- okay, really shouldn't -- reveal what they are in a review. That makes it tough not to give away the surprise while mentioning that there is one, especially if it's pivotal as related to everything we've seen up to that point.

Romantic comedies typically aren't the sort of movie where big ol' twists pop up and knock your socks off. Sure, the eventual pairing of couples might surprise some viewers, but you rarely imagine you'll see something like Richard Gere's character in "Pretty Woman" actually turning out to be an undercover vice detective who busts Julia Roberts's one for prostitution. Or pulling a "Crying Game" switcheroo, or what have you.

And that's because such twists are pretty much incongruous with the nature of the genre where the comfort food, if you will, is the predictable nature of the characters, storyline beats and so on. Yet, for the rom-com "Last Christmas," incongruity appears to be the name of the game.

I obviously won't give away the twist, but needless to say it does come out of left field along with other elements that either feel sort of shoehorned into the plot or aren't given more than scant attention. That also holds true for some characters who've lost time either via scriptwriting software or a trip or two through the editing booth.

That said, there are moments to enjoy in this latest offering from director Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids," the "Ghostbusters" reboot) who works from a screenplay by Emma Thompson & Greg Wise. Leads Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding individually have a charismatic magnetism and attractiveness that makes watching them pleasurable, while the script delivers some truly funny lines from time to time.

Clarke plays a young woman who's apparently lost her way in life while living in London estranged from her parents (Emma Thompson and Boris Isakovic) and sister (Lydia Leonard) and unable to land any acting gig, meaning she works in a year-round Christmas shop run by a woman (Michelle Yeoh) who goes by the name of Santa.

The latter gives 26-year-old Kate more chances than she deserves, something few others extend to her, meaning she currently has no place to live. Enter Tom (Golding), a handsome and optimistic young man who encourages the down-on-her-luck-by-her-own-doing woman to look up and see what she's been missing (literally and figuratively).

As he tries to reset her outlook on life, she begins to fall for him, and it's then that I imagined a slight twist was going to be that Santa is his mom (probably because they played that same character combo in "Crazy Rich Asians"), thus throwing a monkey wrench into the budding romance as well as the boss-employee scenario.

Well, I whiffed on that one, but I also didn't imagine I'd see Thompson doing a caricature of a Yugoslavian mother who's emotionally scarred (albeit on the comedy side) from escaping that country; the protagonist's best friend character all but disappearing from the story; some white nationalism thrown into the mix and then vanishing just as quickly as it abruptly showed up; a subplot featuring Yeoh's character goofily being smitten with a man for no apparent reason whatsoever, or having a plethora of George Michael songs playing on the soundtrack.

I have to give the film some kudos for not adhering slavishly to the rom-com formula, but in trying to buck the trend, this slightly more than 100-minute offering ends up feeling like a mixed and sometimes messy bag of elements where everything doesn't fit together as tightly as one would like to see. All of that said, I enjoyed enough of the moments that do work to give "Last Christmas" a middle of the road, 5 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed November 5, 2019 / Posted November 8, 2019

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