When Universal released the trailer for Last Christmas back in August, it immediately got the internet speculating on two subjects: how much hotter Crazy Rich Asians and A Simple Favor star Henry Golding could possibly get, and what the seemingly inevitable twist in this holiday-themed rom-com could be. Directed by Paul Feig and “inspired” by George Michael’s perennial banger, the movie certainly delivers on a third-act surprise. Is either the movie or the reveal any good? Let’s discuss.
Will you just tell me the twist?
First, a little setup. Last Christmas stars erstwhile Mother of Dragons Emilia Clarke as a struggling singer named Kate who works as a retail clerk at a Christmas shop in 2017 London. Kate keeps running into Tom (Golding), who looks like if a teddy bear had the body of a male model. She is also quasi-homeless in that Frances Ha way—her starving-artist pride keeps her from returning to her parents’ house—so she spends a lot of nights in the freezing cold trying not to go home, which is usually when Tom comes around on his bicycle and shows her charming pockets of London she’d never seen before.
You still haven’t told me the twist.
Patience. I’m almost there! Throughout the movie, Kate keeps alluding to a time in her life when she was ill and taken care of by her overbearing mother (Emma Thompson). Kate tells Tom when she goes to his suspiciously neat apartment that she hasn’t felt the same since she got a heart transplant the previous year, and—in the sexiest part of this ostensibly romantic comedy—he meaningfully touches her scar.
If you haven’t figured out by now that Tom is her now-dead organ donor, congrats on watching your first ghost/angel romance, which is somehow a genre that persists to the present day. (Other examples include the 1940s romance A Guy Named Joe, Steven Spielberg’s 1989 remake Always, the 2010 Zac Efron drama Charlie St. Cloud, the 2013 Nicholas Sparks adaptation Safe Haven—the latter two of which I suppose I just “spoiled”—and, of course, Ghost.)
Wait. So “Last Christmas … he … gave her … his heart”?
And the very next day she gave it away, I guess, by sleeping with a bunch of dudes? I dunno, this movie is so literal about acting out the lyrics to “Last Christmas” it’s honestly surprising they didn’t re-create the line “once bitten and twice shy” by showing Golding sinking his teeth into his co-star.
Tom is a ghost? Or a guardian angel?
Maybe! Here’s where the movie is actually less concrete than it should be. It’s not completely clear whether he’s an actual supernatural spirit, a more metaphorical personification of their (formerly his) heart, or a Fight Club–style hallucination. We do, of course, see a third-act montage of several of Kate and Tom’s earlier scenes together—this time with Kate simply talking to herself. We do not, however, see Kate making out with the air.
So Kate might have a serious mental illness?
The movie sure leaves open that possibility! Then again, it also takes a jarringly light approach to genocide, so …
Remember when I said the movie was set in 2017? Last Christmas takes place the year after George Michael’s death—which might explain why his music is playing out of every single storefront and Christmas toy, but it’s also England so who knows—and the year after the United Kingdom decided to vote for Brexit by a slim margin. The best thing about Last Christmas, actually, is the way it reimagines London for the big screen as a city full of striving immigrants and a metropolis with dispiriting class inequality, just like the actual British capital. Kate herself is the daughter of Yugoslavian refugees (her birth name is Katarina, as her family loves to remind her), and her boss is a Christmas-loving Chinese Brit (Michelle Yeoh) named Santa.
But what’s the deal with the genocide?
I’m getting there! So the movie’s good intentions are in full view, but dead Tom should well know that the road to hell is paved with those. Case in point: Co-writer Emma Thompson does a broad Central European shtick that can’t find the right balance between affection and mockery. The allusions that Kate and her mom make to massacres in the homeland are meant to be a pro-refugee message (because that’s somehow a thing we now need to send) but also has the unfortunate side effect of making the genocidal Yugoslav wars of the 1990s a backdrop to a spoiled second-generation immigrant kid’s supernatural romance.
Going back to angel/demon/delusion Tom, are there any early signs that he’s not a living human being?
Oh yeah. Like many extraordinarily good-looking men, he refuses to hand over his phone number—his excuse being that he doesn’t keep a phone on him in the year 2017. (If Kate had any friends left by that point, one might have told her, “You in danger, girl.”) Also, an employee at the homeless shelter where he volunteers at night has never heard of him (though that might be because the two men work different shifts). In addition, Tom refuses to sleep with Kate in that too-neat apartment of his, which turns out to be decorated with staging furniture put there by a realtor. It’s the realtor, by the way, who tells Kate that Tom died in a bike accident … last Christmas.
What’s Tom’s motivation for helping out some random stranger who happened to get one of his organs?
I wish I knew! Perhaps in the Last Christmas sequels, we’ll discover that Tom is also saving the adorably messy lives of his kidney, lung, and pancreas donees as well. But here, he just comes across as a manic pixie dream ghost with no desires and no flaws (unless it counts to be too handsome). Until then, the movie is just the pro-Christmas, anti-Brexit, anti-cycling propaganda we need right now!