The heartwarming romantic comedy pulls a bait and switch that might leave your jaw on the floor
(Major spoilers ahead, obviously, for the ending of “Last Christmas”)
The holiday season is upon us, and that means the deluge of Christmas movies has begun. To begin the festivities we’ve got Paul Feig’s “Last Christmas,” a movie that looks like a pretty standard romantic comedy but is actually something much more. I guess we should have expected as much from the guy coming off the very twisty “A Simple Favor,” but it’s still pretty surprising how this one turned out.
I should note before we get into this that I really enjoyed “Last Christmas.” So I’m not writing this as a way of mocking this movie. The twist we’re about to discuss is really wild mostly just because it defies your expectations about what a romantic comedy is and because most folks aren’t going to be coming into this thing expecting any kind of major twist. But, to me, “Last Christmas” isn’t just different from romantic comedy standards — it’s more than just a romantic comedy as well.
So let’s get into it. I’m gonna kinda talk through the plot of the movie now The story here focuses on Kate (Emilia Clarke), whose family moved to London in the late ’90s as refugees from Yugoslavia. As a result, they’re all kinda messed up and have a lot of emotional baggage. As Kate’s mom (Emma Thompson, who also co-wrote the film) notes early on, she has no social life because “all my friends were murdered.” Mom is also worried that they’re gonna get kicked out of the country because of Brexit, and Dad (Boris Isakovic) drives a cab all the time because just being around his family brings up a lot of trauma.
In addition to all that stuff, Kate has some extra baggage she’s dealing with. As we learn midway through “Last Christmas,” she had a heart defect of some kind that put her in the hospital on the brink of death, until she received a new heart from someone who had died. Ever since, she says, something has just felt wrong. So she drinks a lot, eats unhealthy food, hooks up with a lot of random guys, and is just generally incapable of having a roommate without doing stupid things that get her kicked out. Kate also avoids hanging out with her family, though she eventually has to sleep at her parents’ house because otherwise she’d be homeless.
Kate also works at a Christmas store, run by a woman who goes by Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Santa notes that ever since Kate returned to work after her illness that she hasn’t been the same — she sucks at her job and forgets to lock up the store one night, which of course has disastrous consequences.
Enter Tom (Henry Golding), a random dude who catches Kate’s eye when he’s standing outside the store one day. The two start talking and they quickly become tight. Tom shows her around to various London spots she never knew about, and talks her through her emotional struggles. We only know about the whole thing with her heart because she told Tom about it.
After they hang out a few times — and after the store gets ransacked because she forgot to lockup — Kate realizes she needs to be proactive about getting her life together. Before, she was upset and vaguely suicidal in a “I’m on a quest to drink myself into an early grave” kind of way. Now, thanks to her therapeutic hangout sessions with Tom, which brought out an awareness of the growing frequency of her major screwups, she is no longer overly enthusiastic about the inevitable sweet embrace of death.
Kate’s relationship with Tom is certainly emotionally intimate, but not really physically, though they do kiss a couple times. They never end up hooking up, though.
Let’s talk about the big twist now.
So it turns out that Tom is a ghost. A year before the events of the film, he was riding his bike in the street and got hit by a truck. And it’s his heart that is currently inside Kate’s chest. Yes, it’s that line from the song the movie is named after — “Last Christmas I gave you my heart.”
It’s not totally clear what the mechanics of the situation are, but the only way to interpret these events that feels internally consistent is that Tom really was a Christmas ghost who knows he’s dead and is trying to help Kate out as she struggles through everyday life. One night, for example, he brings her back to the apartment he lived in before he died, and earlier he made a comment about how he didn’t have a phone because he’d locked his in a cupboard — and that phone was still there a year later. A simple hallucination wouldn’t tell Kate where he lived or that his phone was in the cabinet.
There’s also nothing that indicates that Kate had looked Tom up after she got out of the hospital and went on a tour of places he frequented.
So I think we have to take this story at face value, which I’m totally okay with — it’s a romantic comedy twist on “A Christmas Carol.” One that’s very sweet and deals with real human issues.
What I’m saying is it’s very nice.
George Michael: 9 Classic Music Videos, From 'Faith' to 'Last Christmas' (Videos)
- “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (1984)Wham!’s first No. 1 hit featured a bouncy video with Michael and Andrew Ridgeley performing in front of teens at London’s Brixton Academy.
- “Freedom” (1984)Wham!’s second big hit featured another eye-catching video.
- “Careless Whisper” (1984)Michael’s first solo single — though it appeared on Wham!’s “Make It Big” album — helped to launch him, boosted by this Miami-set video.
- “Last Christmas” (1984)A clean-shaven Michael appears in the video for the 1984 holiday hit — which has been covered many times since and provides a spooky memorial to the songwriter-singer who died on Christmas Day 2016.
- “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (1984)Bob Geldof co-wrote and organized an all-star lineup of ’80s stars — including Michael — to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.
- “Faith” (1987)The title song from Michael’s debut solo album, a No. 1 hit, had a video that launched him as a male sex symbol complete with sunglasses, stubble, and a pair of Levi’s blue jeans with cowboy boots.
- “I Want Your Sex” (1987)Michael co-starred with then-girlfriend Kathy Jeung for this video — in which he tried to play up the stability of his relationship by writing “monogamy” on her back in lipstick.
- “Father Figure” (1988)Michael and Andy Morahan shared the MTV Video Music Award for Best Direction of a Video for this clip from the “Faith” album.
- “Fastlove” (1996)Michael’s video plays with an early version of virtual reality — and also tweaks the singer’s contract dispute with Sony by featuring headphones with “FONY” in a very familiar looking font.
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The British pop star who helped innovate the music video in the 1980s died on Christmas Day 2016 at age 53
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