New York Post: “’Last Christmas’ isn’t particularly funny, or romantic. And the film’s twist ending, which many viewers accurately guessed after watching the trailer, is idiotic and poorly explained.”
Us Weekly: “An aimless, overstuffed mess with glaring identity issues, it will yield little joy during this festive season.”
BBC: “A brutally unfunny and contrived romantic comedy.”
Entertainment Weekly: “A supernatural twist so ludicrous it may actually make you want to punch a reindeer.”
And so on. The film is sitting at a less than 50 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What went so wrong with this movie?
On the surface, “Last Christmas” looked like a charming holiday season offering starring the delightful Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) and Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians”) as Kate and Tom, a pair of unlikely soul mates. Plus, the script was co-written by the beloved Emma Thompson; the soundtrack is exclusively George Michael songs as an homage to the late singer; and it stars the great Michelle Yeoh as a woman named Santa, the quirky owner of a year-round Christmas shop in London.
Overall? The movie’s biggest flaw is simply the fact that it’s a Christmas rom-com that is, in fact, lacking in love and humor (and Christmas).
Yes, the film is set during the holiday season, and Kate spends most of the time running around in an elf costume (“An outfit she keeps on even when she’s off the clock for some bizarre, unexplained reason,” as the Guardian put it) because she works at Santa’s Christmas store. And the plot is based on Michael’s classic hit song “Last Christmas.” But there is nothing specifically in the story that demands it be set at Christmastime. If anything, the movie seems to take joy in mocking people who enjoy the holiday, such as Kate, who initially hates her job at the store, and her parents’ living next to an absurdly overdecorated house.
Also — and we say this as people who unironically love a good Hallmark or Lifetime holiday film — setting a movie at Christmas does not give it an automatic pass. Multiple reviews of the movie seem to tiptoe around too much criticism, because after all, it’s about Christmas! And you can’t be too harsh on something that’s set at Christmas! And doesn’t a “Christmas movie” usually double as a “guilty pleasure” movie? “If you just want to stuff your face with a sticky pudding,” the Wrap offers, “‘Last Christmas’ delivers, even if you were most likely correct when you guessed the film’s twist after watching the trailer.” The Seattle Times’s critic spends several sentences detailing Clarke’s elf costume “because I’m stalling for time while trying to get my head around the idea that a rom-com starring Clarke and the equally charming Henry Golding could fall so flat.”
As far as the rom-com element goes, well … as many reviews point out, Clarke and Golding have almost zero chemistry. Worse than that, both characters are somewhat insufferable. The movie starts with Kate traumatized and miserable after a serious illness, and she deals with it by pushing her family away and doing her best to destroy relationships with all her friends.
Then, out of nowhere, Tom appears at her Christmas shop and starts trying to teach her to appreciate life. “Look up!” he earnestly says many times, which of course leads to a bird, um, relieving itself on Kate’s face when they first meet. He also likes to dance and twirl around in the street, and he doesn’t carry a cellphone. (“Manic Pixie Dream Boy” is a common descriptor of his role.) It’s hard to root for and/or care about either of them until reasons explained very late in the film — but having likable characters is arguably one of the most critical pieces of a romantic comedy.
As far as the plot goes, you might have noticed we talk about a twist several times. The twist is a very important and very bizarre part of the movie, and we won’t spoil it because Clarke seems extremely upset that it’s already been splashed around the Internet (even though it’s quite easy to deduce from the trailer). But that’s also part of the problem: When the audience is more fixated on a twist in a rom-com than the actual story, it’s a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.