Film: Last Christmas a saccharine seasonal comedy from Bridesmaids' Paul Feig
IF THERE'S one time of year when the milk of human kindness can be aggressively sweetened with saccharine sentimentality, it's Christmas.
Dame Emma Thompson and co-writer Bryony Kimmings merrily spoon in the sugar to their seasonal romantic comedy while Bridemaids director Paul Feig unwraps cliches to a soundtrack of George Michael's hits.
His music is timeless and beautiful, providing gentle emotional crescendos on screen including a romantic ice skate to Praying For Time and a moment of self-preservation that echoes the lyrics of Heal The Pain.
Alas, the narrative twist on which the film precariously hangs is glaringly obvious and – in retrospect – illogical.
One intimate scene strains plausibility while another is a blatant cheat, presumably to throw us off the scent, and couldn't unfold as depicted.
The film's emotionally scarred heroine, played with an elfish grin by Emilia Clarke, is thoroughly unlikeable and unsympathetic for the opening hour a la Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
Thompson and Kimmings set themselves the impossible task of redeeming her in time for a tinsel-bedazzled redemption set to the bouncy title track.
"My God, I thought you were someone to rely on," laments George Michael in one of the verses. Regrettably, we could sing that back to the scriptwriters.
Thirtysomething hot mess Kate (Clarke) ricochets between auditions for West End stage roles while fitfully holding down a job as a sales elf at the Yuletide Wonderful shop in Covent Garden.
Her boss Santa (Michelle Yeoh) implores her to take pride in her work but Kate is blinkered to the destruction she leaves in her wake.
Staring out of the shop's window one morning, she is irresistibly drawn to handsome stranger Tom (Henry Golding), who volunteers at a homeless shelter.
He is selfless, sensitive and socially conscious – everything Kate is not – and shepherds her on a tour of historic back alleys to prove she spends too much time looking down or engrossed in a touchscreen.
"Has anyone ever told you there's something slightly serial killery about you?" she awkwardly jests.
Tom's wholesome, positive influence compels Kate to think of others. She engineers romance between Santa and a smitten Dutch customer (Peter Mygind) and slowly repairs fractured relationships with her browbeating Croatian mother (Thompson) and older sister (Lydia Leonard).
Last Christmas cloys and contrives when it should charm and serenade with that gorgeous soundtrack, including an upbeat new George Michael track over the end credits.
Clarke and Golding are an exceedingly attractive pairing and Yeoh is hysterical in a rare comic role, which she plays to the pantomime hilt.
Feig's film, though, is a bauble – beautifully decorated and easy on the eye but hollow. Humbugs, anyone?
LAST CHRISTMAS (12A, 103 mins) Comedy/Drama/Romance. Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Dame Emma Thompson, Lydia Leonard, Peter Mygind. Director: Paul Feig
Released: November 15