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Last Christmas

Kate works in a shop selling Christmas tat. Her boss is called Santa (not necessarily her real name). Kate is getting her midlife crisis in early. She’s on the verge of losing her job and has nowhere to live. Well, of course she could live with her parents, but seeing as her mother is batshit crazy, that’s not an option she wants to take up.

The shop is visited by Tom, a man of no determinate ethnic origin, but he looks a little Chinese. Tom has a bit of a stalker about him, and follows Kate around making gnomic but meaningless utterances about how she needs to look above. Kate immediately hates him and carries on hating him until a moment when for some unclear reason, she decides to fall in love with him. Welcome to RomComLand.

But Tom is difficult to track down and disappears for days at a time. That’s up to 2 days, which given Kate’s current obsession is enough to drive her crazy. He warns her that he is unreliable, but is vague about the details. This is because we are leading to the Dramatic Plot Twist (at this point, major respect to my friend Jacinta who half way through the film turned to me and whispered exactly what that Plot Twist would be).

Tom takes Kate on a tour through a secret London, showing her the monuments invisible to the people who keep their eyes on the ground. He somehow sneaks her into a skating rink, where she skates for the first time, learning enough technique in a short period of time to get her through an audition for an ice rink based play of Frozen. We can choose to go with this or not, but its nothing we shouldn’t expect from This Sort of Film.

So its now time to make a guilty admission. I went to this film – which wasn’t playing in any cinema that I can get in for free – because I was expecting it to be terrible. From all I’d heard this was not just the worst film of the year, but the worst of many years before as well. And its not. Its not a good film – far from it – but its perfectly serviceable sentimental, unbelievable Christmas schmaltz. Its not Its a Wonderful Life and certainly not Bad Santa, but its ok.

When Emma Thompson comes on speaking in a crayzee Croatian accent, I’d been led to believe that her performance would be terrible. Now, I’m not putting her forward for an Oscar, but she’s perfectly good as a refugee who is scared to return to her youthful experience of war, which she takes out on her kids.

Similarly, I’d heard that the film crudely tries to crowbar in a subplot about Brexit. Again, the film has already raised (or possibly lowered) itself to such a level of ridiculousness, that it is not in any good position to make meaningful social comment. But the scenes of migrants experiencing racist threats in an increasingly polarised society are among the strongest in the film.

This is in no sense suggesting that the film is Any Good. Particularly at the beginning of the film, it looks like the actors recorded their conversations in separate rooms, as they have zero social interaction. And while it does raise some important social issues, it seems to suggest that these can be all resolved by a nice Christmas party with some multi-ethnic disabled characters from the casting room. Of course these characters aren’t afforded any actual lines, but its nice to see them in the suitably diverse background.

There are other issues to be raised about the character of Tom, which are difficult to raise without plot spoilers (thanks to Jacinta for these comments, and please only read the rest of this paragraph after watching the film). Let’s just say, that unlike, say, Clarence in Its a Wonderful Life, its really difficult to understand Tom’s motivation. He appears to exist more as plot device than as someone who does anything for any better reason than it helps to get us from Point 1 to Place B.

In this sense of seeing the film as unambitious but doing what it sets out to so, a few minor criticisms. I do feel that there is some slut shaming – the evidence provided to prove that Kate’s life is going off the rails is that she has slept with more than one man, drinks more alcohol than is recommended and eats unhealthily. Which is her perfect right. Get off her case.

Similarly, there is a little too much unnecessary exposition in the dialogue. Kate often explains her actions because her life is fucked up. Her boss explains that despite Kate’s obvious negligence, she won’t be sacked “because I am a nice person”. Now Jacinta insists that this is perfectly ok, and is a sign of Santa’s self-justification but for me it was too much dialogue and not enough showing how things are and letting us make up our own minds.

In summary, I probably won’t rush back to see this film, but nor do I understand the media hate fest out there. Its not great, but there are far worse films to see (give me some time and I can provide you with a list). (Most of) the actors are perfectly competent, and although the plot is risible, it is no more risible that thousands of other films, particularly those which are released over Christmas. I went in hoping to thoroughly hate this film. I regret to say that I was deeply disappointed.

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