The new movie “Last Christmas” is a romantic comedy without romance. It stars Emilia Clark, known for her appearances in the “Game of Thrones” TV series and in films including “Me Before You,” and Henry Golding, an Anglo-Malaysian actor who starred in “Crazy Rich Asians” and “A Simple Favor.”
That last movie was directed by Peter Feig, director of “Last Christmas.” Michelle Yeoh also appears in the cast. “Last Christmas” is the name of a song by the pop duo “Wham.” A few of George Michael’s other songs are sprinkled in with the Christmas carols.
But here’s the thing potential viewers will want to know about “Last Christmas.” It was co-written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Emma Thompson, who also plays Clark’s mother. Thompson also got an Academy Award as an actor in “Howard’s End.”
This is the same Emma Thompson who used to play the girl in the great West End revival of “Me And My Girl,” opposite Robert Lindsey. She’s Kenneth Branaugh’s ex. She’s the one who flew thousands of miles in a jet to join last spring’s protest, in London, of CO2-related environmental concerns.
And her screenplay here is modestly worse than her over-the-top portrayal of a Balkan emigrant. The ethnicity is almost entirely unnecessary to the story. The script suggests that the British voted to leave the European Union because they didn’t want emigrants living in their country.
Apparently Thompson has forgotten what the nationality mix of Londoners has been the last 40 years.
But either she or her writing collaborator Bryony Kimmings do recall “Heaven Can Wait,” “The Others,” “The Sixth Sense” and the load of other movies that use the trick on which their story depends. Even if the springing of the trap comes as a surprise (which may be what was intended), the O. Henry effect doesn’t help the story-telling here.
So we have a supposedly homosexual songwriter being celebrated in the movie and a lesbian couple, emigrant characters suffering everywhere and even told off on a public bus (Londoners don’t generally talk on public transport), and a health emergency in the center of the back story. What else does this need to be a complete cliché?
Homelessness. Clark plays Kate, a would-be professional singer who works in a Covent Garden Christmas shop (managed by “Santa,” the character played by Yeoh). Kate meets a young man named Tom who shows her some of the capital’s famous byways.
Turns out he volunteers in a homeless shelter, or so he says. Clark becomes a familiar face around the large limestone building. She stands out in front (of a homeless shelter) and sings for tips, money she then gives to shelter operators.
All the while she is promoting her boss’ odd and inexplicable romance. Kate pretends to avoid her overbearing mother and her actively-unfriendly sister. And she manages to antagonize all the friends whose couches she surfs.
The pay off is a two-song show she directs at the homeless shelter. Now there is a little more story, having to do with the plot trick and Tom’s habit of telling people to “look up.” But even that business doesn’t resolve any of the problems the characters have in the story.
Which is too bad. The film relies too much on Clark’s charm, but she does have quite a bit of it. Some of the details — especially the visuals — are effective. The Christmas shop was a good idea. And although the movie probably doesn’t make the best possible use of Michael’s songs, the ones it uses are relatively infectious.
The problem is the script. It doesn’t tell a story. It is politically correct and gimmick dependent instead of being imaginative. And Thompson does nothing with her familiar character.
The movie’s trouble may not be Emma Thompson. But she doesn’t seem to have helped it.