Tag Archives: romantic comedy

Despite Flaws Last Christmas entertains on strength of Emilia Clarke’s performance

Emilia Clarke gives a top-shelf performance in Last Christmas, a holiday movie about a young woman’s struggles with her dysfunctional immigrant family and the lasting psychological effects of a life-changing surgery a year earlier. Unfortunately, too many plot holes create an uneven story that will strain credibility even for very forgiving Christmas movie fans.

Clarke plays Kate, the daughter of a family who migrated to London to escape the bloodshed triggered by the break-up of Communist Yugoslavia (in the 1990s). Unable to find work as an attorney, her father now drives a cab in London to support his family while the matriarch (played by Emma Thompson who co-wrote the screenplay) presses her daughters to be successful in their adopted homeland. Kate (and her sister) struggles with her Yugoslav family ethnicity and the demands of her hard-driving mother. 

Kate is not handling the pressure well. She continually slips into destructive personal behavior, including drinking, casual sex, and carelessness that (humorously) results in the killing of a Lionfish, a friend’s model of a wooden sailing ship, and other assorted minor personal catastrophes. Eventually, she is cast out by her friends and forced to move home.

Along the way, Kate meets Tom (Henry Golding), a mysterious but apparently happy-go-lucky type of guy. He is smitten by Kate, and he encourages her to appreciate the unappreciated, like well-kept hidden alleys and urban gardens tucked away behind houses. He admonishes her to “look up” and take note of the little things of wonder all around her, such as birds nesting in the awnings of shops. Predictably, Tom begins to wear down Kate’s cynicism. 

As Kate struggles to find her way, she works as an elf in a London Christmas store owned and operated by a Chinese woman (Michelle Yeoh) nicknamed “Santa.” The banter between Santa and Kate is entertaining, while the setting adds an element of magical realism that helps excuse obvious plot points and a few implausible plot twists. This is a Christmas movie, after all.

Gradually, Kate begins to cope with her own demons and begins to make amends with those she has wronged. She begins to grapple with the real trauma underlying her surgery. Her work at a homeless shelter becomes an important vehicle for this transformation as she begins to understand the joy of helping others. As we might expect, Kate eventually finds her way, but not without real heartache that shakes her to the core. 

Last Christmas has many moments of humor and poignance. The scenes where Kate confronts the real trauma created by her surgery are particularly heart wrenching. Clarke’s performance in this scene is particularly gripping. Clarke, Golding, and Yeoh also have real chemistry on screen, and this helps save the film. Unfortunately, it’s not quite enough to take it to the level their performances warrant. Nevertheless, the core message, that we fulfill ourselves by doing good for others, is the truth that becomes the glue that holds this story together. 

Overall, I found Last Christmas to be a pleasant diversion anchored by an outstanding performance by Clarke. The movie highlights Clarke’s versatility as an actor, exploiting natural comedic timing and expressiveness that many of her fans from Game of Thrones might not recognize. Last Christmas may be the perfect vehicle for pulling her out of any type-casting that might have come from playing The Dragon Queen, Daenerys Targaryen.

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Set It Up‘s light touch is a worthy diversion into romantic comedy

Set It Up‘s (2018) light touch uses a surprisingly snappy comic script and on-screen chemistry among the movie’s leads to offer up an entertaining diversion when viewers need a break from the rat race. The movie never takes itself too seriously, and dabbles just long enough in its characters for viewers to buy into their stories and care about what happens to them as they romp through New York City and discover what really matters.

The movie’s plot is about as transparent as it gets in romantic comedies: Two executive assistants—Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell)—are run into the ground by their narcissistic bosses. Charlie’s boss is Rick (Taye Diggs), a venture capitalist while Harper is forced to content with marquee sports reporter Kirsten (Lucy Liu). Harper is an aspiring sports writer who hopes Kirsten will recognize her talent and give her a shot at an article. Charlie is a buttoned up aspiring investment analyst who Charlie hopes will promote him to a better paying job in his VC firm.

When Harper and Charlie happen to run into each other while trying to fulfill their boss’s mercurial and piqayune tastes for last-minute, take out dinner, they hatch a desperate gambit to create some personal space.
Harper and Charlie figure if they can connect their bosses romantically, they will spend more time with each other than harassing and assistants. Harper convinces Charlie to concoct and implement a plot to hook the power brokers up.

Set It Up‘s plot is incredibly transparent, but Deutch gives the character of Harper just enough quirkiness to keep the banter moving. Charlies is largely along for the ride, but he grows with Harper even as he is challenged to his ethical core as their plans begin to unravel. The two never quite become full partners, but Charlie does serve as just a convenient foil and plot device. He comes into his own, restoring some important balance to Harper’s cleverness, energy, and eagerness to drive a solution home.

Of course, Harper and Charlie’s issue are not just their repressive work environments. Their own insecurities are holding them back as well, and the evolution of these assistants into more mature workers with a purpose allows Set It Up to rise a tier or two above less memorable movies. For writers, Harper’s realization that she needs to simply write, even if her writing is bad, will resonate as an all too true epiphany that that separates the wannabes from the actual writers. (Yes, most writers have their first manuscript burrowed away in a desk drawer, never to see the light of day for good reason.)

While not the best movie of 2018, Set It Up is an entertaining diversion worth streaming when you a comfort movie with a few laughs is just what you need to get through a tough day or period at work.

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