I love terrible Christmas movies. I don’t care how nonsensical and cheesy the plots may be. Give me a cheery soundtrack, a heartwarming narrative about love and family, and possibly a climactic singalong scene at the big talent show, and I am absolutely here for it.
So, when I first saw the ads for Last Christmas, starring Daenerys Targaryen as a Christmas elf and written by the ever-wonderful Emma Thompson, I knew I wanted to see it. When the reviews came in and I heard that it was terrible, I knew I needed to see it.
So, on an early December day, after some stressful deadlines and a big exam, I took myself to the movie theatre and prepared myself for some cheesy Christmas romance.
And, yup. Last Christmas is terrible. Which means Last Christmas is perfect.
Kate has been having a difficult year. She was always supposed to be special, the superstar singer of the family, but since she moved out of her parents’ home, she’s crashed and burned. After getting seriously ill last Christmas, she’s left feeling like she isn’t really alive at all. She moves from friend’s sofa to friend’s sofa, causing chaos with her selfishness, and works as an elf at an all-year-round Christmas shop, doing her very best to ignore all her problems. Nearly died? Family falling apart? There’s no problem that a little desperate denial cannot fix.
Then, she meets Tom, her magic pixie dream boy who encourages her to open her eyes and think about people other than herself.
I must admit, in the movie’s opening scenes, I thought it might just be too awful. I listened to the clunky, expositiony dialogue in one early scene and wondered what on earth had happened to Emma Thompson, and when she had forgotten how to write. Then we meet Kate’s boss at the Christmas shop where she works, a Chinese immigrant woman who goes by the name Santa. With her strong accent, her traditional Chinese style-influenced dress and her blunt and strict demeanour, she initially appears as a walking stereotype. She isn’t, in the end, but the first impression wasn’t great.
But either the writing got better, or I just got used to it, because I soon fell into the spell of the movie. Kate’s love interest is Tom, a part-time bike courier and volunteer at a homeless shelter who stumbles into her life. He’s played by Henry Golding of Crazy Rich Asians fame, and he’s utterly delightful, despite the fact that he falls straight into that rom-com trope of “no is not a final answer.” Asking someone out while they’re working in customer service? No. Keeping asking her to go on a walk with you, and then taking her into an alley (albeit a beautifully lit one) at night? Big no. Her lampshading the serial-killerness doesn’t make it go away. But the movie gets away with it with just a few wry comments that this wouldn’t happen in real life, because this is a Christmas romcom, and he is adorable. He’s less of a real person and more of a fairy godmother, guiding Kate onto a path away from her destructive spiral.
You either know what the movie’s twist is, or you don’t. Going in, I knew it, because once I heard there was a twist, I couldn’t resist reading what it was. Like everything else about this movie, it’s kinda dumb. But in a way, it also mitigates some of these tired romcom tropes, and honestly, I think knowing about it ahead of time probably makes the movie more interesting to watch. So, be warned, here be spoilers if you want to turn back.
In a twist somewhere between A Christmas Carol and The Sixth Sense, it turns out that Tom actually died the previous Christmas. As Kate’s heart failed, one year ago, Tom was killed in a traffic accident, and he became a heart donor. Yes, last Christmas he literally gave her his heart. But this knowledge changes the entire tone of the movie. It isn’t really some stranger encouraging Kate to step out and look up and start sorting out her life. It’s Kate herself. She feels unworthy of the second chance she’s been given at life, and the idea of her heart-donor, whether a genuine ghost or not, encouraging her to take advantage of what she has is a terribly cheesy but perfectly Christmas-y way of looking at things. In the end, this isn’t a romcom, but a modern day Christmas Carol, with either a ghost or just Kate’s own conflicted feelings guiding her past her trauma into the best person she can be.
There’s a lot wrong with this movie. But somehow, all those things come together into something that is smile-inducing and heartwarming, in that cheesy Christmassy way. The movie is sweet and funny. Kate’s character growth is genuinely great to watch. And who could get tired of seeing Emilia Clarke in an adorable green elf costume? Despite its one big surprise, it’s generally predictable in that soothing sort of way, where unhappy people will become happy, wounded relationships will mend, and everyone has good in them, if you only give them a chance.