Last Christmas (2019)

So, technically I should probably open this with a spoiler warning, because structurally this is one of *those* movies where the entire plot hinges on a single misdirect, but... here's the thing. If you've ever seen a movie before - quite literally any movie - you will see the twist coming. Not near the end: from the moment the "twist" character shows up. Hell, I mostly figured it out from the trailer. By the time the obligatory realization montage plays and the main character realizes the truth, I literally said to the screen, "You don't have to do this - everyone gets it."

But here's a twist you might not have seen coming: I love this movie. I love it unironically. Also, I love it ironically. This might be the first movie reviewed on Mainlining Christmas to earn both a "highly recommended" and a "so bad it's good" label. It feels like someone made a computer program watch 10,000 hours of Christmas movies and spit out a script, then directed the hell out of it until the end result was a quantum juxtaposition between offensively stupid and adorably sweet. The obvious twist is funny, but so are the jokes. You know how everyone defends Hallmark movies by saying they're supposed to be simple and familiar? This is that with an A-list cast, gorgeous sets, humorous dialogue, and great direction.

And I'm not sure that wasn't the reaction writer/director Paul Feig was going for. I'm not convinced he meditated on the nature of Christmas movies until he distilled them to their Platonic ideal and intentionally produced a movie designed to be dismissed on release then grow into a holiday classic... but that guy is clever, and I kind of think this one is going to grow in popularity over time. An obvious twist is only an issue the first time through: after you've seen a movie once, every twist is obvious.

All that being said, let's dive into this thing. Our protagonist is named Kate. Well, she wants to be called "Kate," but her actual name is "Katarina," and there's a whole arc where she slowly embraces her birthname as part of the movie's stance against Brexit and xenophobia, which probably should have been the A-plot and/or primary theme, but is instead relegated to a sort of cinematic footnote. I digress, but then again, so does the screenplay.

At the start of the movie, Kate is a mess. She wants desperately to become an actress/singer, but she fails miserably at every audition. She's unable to maintain a residence, she has a strained relationship with her family, she eats unhealthy food, she drinks too much, her love life is a series of one-night stands... you get the point. She's running out of couches to crash on, and she's at risk of losing her job as an elf in a Christmas store.

We're informed her problems originated with some kind of serious medical issue the previous year, though we're given no specifics for quite a while. In the middle of all this, she meets Tom, the absolute archetype of a genuinely nice guy who shows Kate secret places around the city, encourages her to look up, cannot be reached by phone, and who coincidentally never interacts with anyone other than Kate.

If this thing had miraculously ended with the reveal that Tom was a living, breathing person who others could see, it actually might have felt like an effective twist. I spent the first half of the film quietly wondering, "angel or ghost," and when the movie revealed Kate's mystery medical emergency had resulted in a heart transplant... well, there's your answer.

Between scenes with Tom, the movie explores Kate's other relationships. There's a fairly constant pattern of Kate making matters worse, rethinking her life, then repairing the damage. Also, she starts singing to raise money for a local homeless shelter Tom showed her earlier, and this culminates in her throwing a Christmas talent show there, where she offers up a potential theme for the movie so inane it makes the opening of Love Actually sound like Aristotle. Appropriately, Emma Thompson is sitting in the front row.

So, yes, the premise and story are astonishingly dumb. But the dialogue mostly works. The characters are enjoyable, if absurd, and the jokes mostly land. It's a genuinely funny movie, both when it intends to be and when it doesn't. And, again, I'm not entirely convinced the unintentionally funny bits are as unintentional as they seem.

On top of that, the movie is visually delightful. It's a bright, colorful celebration of life, an unabashed ode to joy (if you want to be less cynical, that's what Kate's brief speech was about, incidentally). And it works on that level: a simplistic, dumb, effective portrayal of holiday cheer.

I'd be remiss not to talk a little about the cast. Emilia Clarke is great as the lead, but the real stars are the supporting characters. Emma Thompson and Michelle Yeoh are particularly wonderful as Kate's mother and boss. Everyone manages a nice mix of over-the-top hilarious with just staying grounded enough to keep you engaged.

Ultimately, you're left with a movie where every piece is engrossing and magical, but the complete film is utterly meaningless. Usually, this where I'd say the whole is less than the sum of its parts, but here... honestly... the parts are so good it doesn't matter. In fact, the absence of a compelling story may be a feature, because you're left with a movie you can put on in the background.

Let me be more clear: this has the potential to be another Christmas Story. In fact, let's toss Christmas Story in the dumpster where it belongs and petition TBS to run this annually instead. It's good enough and more importantly bad enough to be decoration and background sound to the holidays. It's visually appealing, the scenes mostly stand on their own, and the actual plot is so idiotic, you won't care when you have to step away.

In short, it's the perfect disposable holiday movie. Someone call Hallmark and Lifetime and tell them they can close down operations - the job is done.