Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding make ‘Last Christmas’ worthy of your heart

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In the past couple of years, it seems we’ve all admitted that those made-for-cable holiday movies starring D-list celebs were actually pretty fun to watch. Since then they’ve only exploded in popularity, drawing more and more stars, with the networks expanding their seasonal offerings well into autumn.

While Hollywood studios annually release a family holiday movie or two in the vein of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” Emma Thompson and Paul Feig’s holiday rom-com “Last Christmas” feels much more in tune with the Hallmark or Lifetime approach — but with higher-profile stars and a much bigger music budget.

Inspired by that delightfully cheesy ‘80s Christmas tune “Last Christmas” by Wham! the film becomes a bit of a jukebox musical for George Michael’s greatest hits, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The screenplay plugs a literal reading of the song into a “Bridget Jones”-style story with a light Brexit dusting for topicality.

Kate and Tom (Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding) meet by chance outside the Christmas shop where Kate, dressed in an elf costume, is working. Imagine if Will Ferrell’s “Elf” was having a “Bad Santa” day and you’ll get a sense of Kate’s downward spiraling lifestyle: dragging a rolling suitcase from couch to couch, drinking alone in pubs, drowning her sorrows in full pints and one-night stands. She’s recovering from a near-death experience, she tells Tom, and she hasn’t felt like her sunny self since she “came back.”

Tom, whimsical and mysterious, finds joy in the little things, spinning and skipping down the street, exhorting Kate to always “look up.” It’s a way to catch little bits of magic in the world. But it inspires Kate to have awareness of the things around her, in her community, to have a little faith, feel a little gratitude. Of course, they start to fall in something like love, or so Kate thinks.

At first, Kate and Tom are slightly maddening in their extreme quirks. Kate has a bratty attitude and can’t get her life together. And Tom is just a little too Pollyanna-perfect. But that leaves them room to grow and change. And thankfully, they do.

Director Feig has built an interesting body of work, and while “Last Christmas” feels much more like a Thompson film than a Feig film (rapidly wordy, delightfully goofy), he brings a swift bounciness to the material. And he surrounds Clarke and Golding with charming supporting performances including Michelle Yeoh, a surprisingly adept comic performer.

It feels only slightly more elevated than your standard TV holiday rom-com, with a twist that can be seen coming from a mile away. But the performances and well-earned character arcs make “Last Christmas” a satisfying holiday flick worth giving your heart to.

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