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Last Christmas (2019)::rating::3::rating::3

Last Christmas completes an unofficial trilogy of films featuring a monogamous devotion to an iconic musician.  Blinded By the Light sang a song of frustrated youth by way of Bruce Springsteen.  Yesterday created a fantasy world where a man passes The Beatles catalogue off as his own.  Now, we get the wedded bliss of a gooey Christmas movie with the frothy pop of George Michael.  Like those earlier movies, your enjoyment of Last Christmas will lean heavily on your appreciation of its chosen superstar.  If “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” is a no-go, you’d probably better pluck a full star off this review.

Kate’s (Emilia Clarke) life feels an intersection where different disasters can meet each other head-on.  Her love life is a travelogue of sketchy trysts with gooberific losers.  She works in a year-round Christmas store, and her boss (Michelle Yeoh) is an unfortunate mix of stern and loony.  Kate’s immigrant family runs the gamut from a smothering mother (Emma Thompson, co-writing) to a venomous older sister (Lydia Leonard).  To complete this dysfunction junction, Kate has a serious health issue that seems to affect every bad decision she makes.

All of this gets blown up when Kate meets Tom (Henry Golding).  Dashing, intelligent, and quirky, Tom seems too good to be true for the twisted wreckage of Kate’s personal life.  Still, he somehow takes an interest in the klutzy, self-centered Kate, and slowly begins to alter her trajectory for the better.  Slowly but surely, Kate tumbles into the true meaning of Christmas.

By now, you’re probably wondering how George Michael fits into all this.  Unlike Blinded and Yesterday, where the music powered the story like a fusebox, Last Christmas deploys the hits of its hero incidentally.  Michael’s anthems occupy the background of most scenes, like a Spotify playlist on repeat.  The songs don’t so much provide the vibe as mirror its intent:  Wham! and Michael delivered meticulous, catchy, candy-coated pop, making it a perfect match for this movie’s breezy cuteness.

On the subject of cuteness, Clarke and Golding are rom-com perfection.  Clarke is clearly paying a penance for all those years roasting peasants on Game of Thrones.  As a comedic actress, she’s irresistibly authentic.  Her big laugh bounces off the walls.  Golding has the lived-in charm of a classic leading man.  These two play off each other perfectly, even though anybody who’s seen enough of these movies knows that the story will inevitably chuck a curveball in their direction.

When that plot twist arrives, it will either pull you in or push you away.  I saw it coming a mile out, and–without giving anything away–this abrupt right turn really makes the film feel too precious and tidy for its own good.  Viewers who can buy into the schmaltz will probably love every minute of it.  Anybody who has even an ounce of cynicism, beware.

And don’t get it twisted:  I ain’t no wet blanket.  I believe in the power of love (Huey Lewis notwithstanding) and the spirit of Christmas.  The music of George Michael is great in measured doses. Ironically, Last Christmas made me think of Halloween:  There’s only so much sugar a person can handle in one sitting.

103 min.  PG-13.

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