November 30, 2019
Christmas romcoms are difficult to get right.
Forget The Negative Reviews, Last Christmas Is A Festive Treat With Very Real Modern-Day Themes At Its Heart
Few will become timeless classics or come close to the perfection that is Love Actually, which annually finds its way to our TV screens come the festive period, and yet most years new attempts are churned out and promptly found in the Bargain Bin come January.
Enter Last Christmas, directed by Paul Feig of Bridesmaids fame, a film loaded with all the makings of a Christmas classic; an all-star cast, deadpan British humour, an array of festive songs (thanks to the late George Michael), and a cringe-worthy ending featuring a celebratory fairy-lit concert.
It has proved to be a box-office success, knocking Joker off the top spot after a six-week stint, and made £2.6 million in the first three days.And yet, the reviews were dire. One publication christened it the “worst movie of the year”, while another called it “brutally unfunny”. So why has this merry motion picture been slammed by every critic who dared review it?
Let’s start at the beginning; Last Christmas isn’t art, and wasn’t created to exist as such. It is, however, an example of brilliant marketing. At first glance, the film appears to hone in on the romantic development between Kate (Emilia Clarke) and Tom (Crazy Rich Asian’s Henry Golding).
Kate is a quirky but chaotic millennial who drinks a bit too much and couch surfs on her friend’s sofas in a bid to avoid her uptight and overbearing family. After a major health crisis the year before, she refuses to acknowledge that her life needs to change and struggles to beat a growing sense of self-loathing. Whilst working at a tacky Christmas store run by ‘Santa’ (the hilarious Michelle Yeoh, one of the film’s gems), Kate encounters Tom, who seems to appear at the most random of times and urges her to ‘look up’, to see the beauty of the world, all whilst skipping strangely in the street and persuading her to stop chowing down on dodgy kebabs.
Their interactions are strange, fleeting and almost childish, but feel uncomplicated – rather than courting Kate in the traditional sense of the word, Tom encourages her to value her existence, which, rather than a romance built around superficial attributes, feels refreshing. 
A particularly emotional scene where Tom brings a drunk Kate back to his flat, and ends up cradling her as she tells him how lost and inadequate she feels, really hits a nerve. He tells her “What’s wrong with not knowing, being inconsistent, uncertain? Why do you have to be anything?”Kate is young, disorientated, and unsure of her future, much like many young people living in the UK today. Every day they face mounting pressures - what career path to take, how to please our parents, how to look after our bodies, questioning our sexual desires. In a society where the rush of life often leads to the disregard of just being, it’s rare to see a film comment on mental health in such a simple and honest way, even if it does feel slightly rushed.
Yes yes, it’s all a bit cheesy, but what Christmas movie isn’t? 
Nevertheless, Kate and Tom’s relationship may have been the focal point of the film’s advertising, and indeed it does serve the plot significantly (particularly at the end, when you discover why he’s been hanging around her all this time), but it is ultimately Kate’s personal development and the film’s unexpected commentary on social issues that truly makes it shine.
One aspect in particular is the portrayal of Eastern European culture. Emma Thompson, who co-wrote the film alongside Bryony Kimmings, stars as Kate’s overbearing Yugoslavian mother who was forced to flee the country with her family in the late 90s following the war.
She’s melancholy, trudging around the house singing lullabies and war hymns from the past while her husband cautiously avoids coming home because the atmosphere is too depressing.Thompson, however, injects humour into her character, and despite her unfortunate attempt at a Yugo accent, manages to deliver some of the film’s better one-liners (during a routine hospital visit with Kate, the doctor suggests that her mother improve her mental health by socialising more, to which she replies “All my friends were murdered.” - it’s surprisingly comical.) 
As for the family dynamic, it’s all too familiar; Kate and her sister Marta struggle to connect, primarily due to Marta’s inability to be honest about her sexuality with her parents. This drives a wedge between the two, until Kate eventually outs Marta to the family. They both appear displaced – Kate, who has no control of her life and feels disconnected from her culture, and Marta, who feels obligated to please her father by becoming a lawyer.
Anyone who was raised in an Eastern European household can instantly relate; family can often feel oppressive, particularly if certain expectations are put in place. Honing in on these themes feels relevant, particular for second generation immigrant children who have ever felt inadequate, or had to hide who they really are from their families. 
This is important; despite the cultural diversity that serves Britain, it is tremendously rare to see refugee or migrant families being represented in mainstream cinema. Last Christmas does this incredibly well – the drab outdated décor, inquisitive parents and incessant force-feeding at the dinner table may be perceived as archaic stereotypes, but actually feel comical and true (and are, surprisingly, largely accurate).
One of the final scenes where, following Christmas dinner, the family all get up and start dancing to a Yugoslavian folk song, is incredibly heartwarming and poignant. Considering our current political climate, a non-English family enjoying festivities in the heart of London felt uplifting and necessary.The film also hones in on the abhorrent racism that has reared its ugly head since the announcement of Brexit back in 2016.  A scene where a couple conversing in Croatian on the bus get told to ‘speak English or go to back to where you came from’ is jarring, but one that happens all too often.
When Kate approaches the couple and announces that not only is she fluent in their language, but they are in fact very welcome here, it’s difficult not to be moved by such an act, minimal as it was. Not only is it a final acceptance of Kate’s culture (she introduces herself as Katerina, her real Yugoslavian name), but for the thousands of immigrants who are harassed in the UK daily, it’s an acknowledgement of their struggles, and their presence.
These all appear rather heavy themes for a movie that was advertised as a simple Christmas romcom, and yet, that is precisely what makes it stand out from the crowd. Although they are all merely touched upon, which was one of the many criticisms the movie faced, their inclusion felt distinctive and necessary.
Last Christmas steps away from the perfection of Christmas, and tackles many of the deep-rooted issues our society faces today including homelessness and the fear of deportation, and it is these unexpected additions that give it the charm critics seem to have missed.
Despite this, the film still leaves you feeling jolly. It’s colourful, and camp, and perfectly British, with an appreciation for George Michael, awkward elf costumes and the reflective cobbled streets of Covent Garden.
It may be a story about love, but not in the traditional romcom sense of the word. It’s the joining of cultures, sexualities, classes, and people who are worse off than you. Primarily, it is a story about inclusion. Though Clarke and Golding are brilliant as Kate and Tom, it is the supporting cast, Yeoh and Thompson included, that bring a sincerity and warmth to the film.
A festive tale of romance peppered with real life issues may not be for everyone, so anyone looking for the perfect film should explore elsewhere – for everyone else, glitter up and get ready for the waterworks.READ MORE: New George Michael Song Debuts Ahead Of Its Inclusion In Last Christmas Film As Critics Tear Into Last Christmas, Emilia Clarke Explains How New Film Has An 'Anti-Brexit' Message Last Christmas Director Speaks Out After Critics Tear New Festive Film Apart
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