Last Christmas

Tom (Henry Golding, left) and Kate (Emilia Clarke, right) star in “Last Christmas.”

Viewers don’t ask much from their holiday movies. Put a group of beautiful, moderately engaging stars together to do cheerful activities and eventually fall in love and we’re set.

Maybe that’s why “Last Christmas” feels so weird. For all of its attempts at Christmas cheer, it feels like it’s holding the audience and its cast, headlined by “Game of Thrones’” Emilia Clarke and “Crazy Rich Asians’” Henry Golding, from having a good time.

This is because “Last Christmas” is keeping a secret that it doesn’t try hard at concealing. Then it takes almost all of the film’s running time for that obvious shoe to drop.

The parts for a solid Christmas movie are all there. Paul Feig is a talented comedic director, bringing out the best in actors like Kristen Wiig in “Bridesmaids” and Melissa McCarthy in “Spy.” Clarke is an endless well of charm, finally being able to put it on full display with “Game of Thrones” ending. The movie takes place in a idyllic, cheery interpretation of London. It’s set to the best George Michael songs. I mean, come on.

Clarke plays Kate, an Eastern European immigrant and aspiring actor who works as an elf in a year-round Christmas store, run by the stern-but-loving Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Her life is a series of drunken mishaps, failed auditions, hook-ups and couch surfing at her friends’ homes while dealing with a strained relationship with her mother, Adelia (Emma Thompson, who also shares a writing credit for the film).

The only positive presence in Kate’s life is Tom (Golding), a dreamboat who has seemingly materialized out of the ether to help Kate deal with her problems and find that there is a reason to be cheerful about her life.

The problem with Tom and Kate’s relationship is the former’s presence is so inconsistent (he’s absent for large sections of the film because he’s busy helping the homeless) that their chemistry doesn’t have enough time to establish itself. The movie frequently turns into a montage of Kate disappointing herself, Tom helping pick up the pieces and then disappearing.

Despite portraying an underwritten character, Clarke, aided by her constantly contorting eyebrows, plays her with infectious energy and effective emotion. Feig and his crew match her vigor with Christmas cheer, featuring bright, ornate sets and montages of characters singing, drinking and dancing to songs like “Freedom! ‘90,” “Heal The Pain” and “Faith.”

“Last Christmas” can’t shake the parts that are working against it, like Thompson’s ridiculous Croatian accent, an unnecessary subplot about Brexit and, well, that other part that I can’t talk about. Even a cute, last-minute subplot about Kate making changes for the better can’t quite save what feels like a waste of time.

At best, this would have been a fun, average Christmas rom-com with beautiful people doing cute things in inexplicably gorgeous settings. Instead, it’s a movie that’s not quite as clever as it thinks or as memorable as it would hope to be in the Christmas movie canon.

— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live

Andrew Gaug can be reached at andrew.gaug@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNOWGaug