After eight years of destroying civilizations, executing armies, and scowling down on creation from high atop a fiery dragon, it’s nice to see Emilia Clarke smile. The Game of Thrones star has re-entered the rom-com world—following up 2016’s Me Before You—with Paul Feig’s laughy-weepie Last Christmas. Despite Clarke’s radiant performance, though, and more Christmas cheer than even Santa’s head elf could handle, the film never quite kicks into gear, instead content to meander through a too-preachy plot before reaching its treacly, all-too-obvious conclusion.
Clarke is Kate, a Yugoslav expat working in a London Christmas shop owned by Santa (Michelle Yeoh). When she’s not causing more trouble than she’s worth in the store, Kate is avoiding her family like the plague, getting booted from friends’ flats, and generally stumbling through life as a walking trainwreck. Kate’s mom Petra (Emma Thompson, who also co-wrote the screenplay) helicopter-parents like the best of them, worried that her daughter’s heart condition will flair up again—we later learn Kate had a heart transplant a year earlier.
One winter’s night, the mysterious Tom (Henry Golding) shows up at the shop and invites Kate to go for a walk. Over the course of a few weeks, their friendship blossoms, prompting Kate to start getting her act together. Not only does she begin volunteering at a local homeless shelter, she also reunites with her family, including her estranged sister Marta (Lydia Leonard).
There’s no doubt Last Christmas is steeped in holiday goodness—romance, family, forgiveness, and charity all figure in prominently. The issue is that much of it is more ham-fisted than Porky Pig’s left hook; at one point Kate is witness (and savior) to anti-immigrant prejudice on a city bus, and, of course, the homelessness storyline is played up for all its worth. Thompson, who won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 1995 for Sense and Sensibility, has struggled to write anything even half as good since, and Last Christmas doesn’t do her any favors. Clarke certainly does her best to rise above the gooeyness, but she can only do so much before it drags her down again.
It’s worth reminding folks that Feig, who’s gifted us with incredible comedies like Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy, is also the man behind the ill-advised 2016 Ghostbusters remake. Though Last Christmas does have a few funny moments and makes the most of Clarke’s talent (and, yes, that criminally underused smile) the film is squarely in the “ill-advised” camp—a slog of predictability and tear-jerky goop that, while certainly not ruining your holiday, falls far short of anything that would make it onto your annual required holiday viewing list.