By Debra Kate Schafer
There are a few romantic movie tropes that are overused and tired at this point — forbidden love, fake relationships and main characters with illnesses. “Last Christmas” takes the latter and turns it on its head.
Yes, one of the main characters has a run-in with a life-threatening condition, but the movie’s overall plot does not dwell on this to evoke tears from its audience. It’s simply an aspect of one of the characters. The film is not about life coming to an end — it’s about life just getting started.
Emilia Clarke, best known for her work on “Game of Thrones,” plays a cynical elf, of sorts, in the most hilariously relatable way possible. By elf, I mean that she spends at least half of the movie in an elf costume — her day job is working in a strictly Christmas-themed boutique in the heart of London.
Her character, Kate, is quirky, careless and working a dead-end job. She’s about as lost as you can be when you’re in your late 20s, have alienated all of your friends and have lost touch with your artistic dreams.
However, she doesn’t stay that way, thanks to a handsome Londoner who has his eye on the sky.
Henry Golding, a newcomer to the Hollywood acting scene who rose to fame after his leading role in “Crazy Rich Asians,” effortlessly portrays Tom Webster, a kind-hearted, level-headed stranger, who is just as whimsical as he is mysterious.
Tom doesn’t have a cell phone and has never even heard of the movie “Frozen,” but thanks to his impromptu ice skating dates and inspirational lessons, he still managed to play a big role in the evolution of Kate’s heart and soul.
I found that “Last Christmas” would not be worthy of eight out of 10 stars if it wasn’t for Clarke and Golding’s perfect back-and-forth.
An evident takeaway of the pair’s on-screen relationship is the fact that they are an interracial couple — something that is not once explicitly stated during the film, which allows them to be who they are without drama or attention.
They aren’t the only interracial couple, either, because we get to know two others throughout the duration of the movie. Not only that, but the diverse backgrounds and humble lifestyles of Kate and her family (who moved from Yugoslavia when she was young and lived in the U.K. for many years) are celebrated and appreciated in a respectful manner.
During the climax of “Last Christmas,” there is an unexpected plot point that had even me, an avid romance movie watcher and wannabe screenwriter, dropping my jaw.
The dialogue, depth and consistency of the film was seamless right out of the gate, as audiences meet a young Kate in an opening flashback scene where she is leading her church’s choir in song. During a nostalgia-inducing Christmas Mass, her family looks on fondly as the seemingly picture-perfect family has an even more picture perfect London holiday.
An added bonus was the inclusion of the incomparable Emma Thompson. She not only wrote, produced and starred in the movie as Kate’s mother, but also served as the perfect source of comic relief. The legendary actress crafted a story that was equally astonishing as it was predictable. It had everything from upbeat musical numbers to heart-stopping twists and turns, something that I can surely get behind in 2019.
Yet it was Golding and Clarke who shone, as they brought to life two strong, resilient main characters that you can’t help but adore. They shed the preconceptions of typical rom-com protagonists. Their on-screen chemistry does not seem the least bit forced, turning what could be a cheesy, romantic, holiday movie into something fresh, special and memorable.
The soundtrack of the film is based around George Michael’s stellar musical catalog, which plays on the fact that Kate is a massive fan of him. Each song is beloved, poignant and brings a deeper meaning to the score than upon first glance.
Take the title track, for example — the classic holiday belter “Last Christmas.” It comes off as a predictable, romantic tune yearning for a past lover during the holiday season, but it may or may not play a large part in the plot of the film.
You have to really listen to the lyrics of “Last Christmas” word-for-word to understand the film’s very own connections between a lost love, a lost heart and a bond that will surely last beyond Dec. 25.