Against the neverending current of bland, spineless Christmas movies, every so often a holiday film emerges that speaks to—and challenges—what we know about the political landscape we are living in. Most films are content to take vague stances on easy subjects: you should spend more time with family, or, capitalism is not all bad but it’s not all good either. Well, Last Christmas is here to put those cowardly films to shame and, in the process, reunite the entire European Union.
That’s right: what may seem like a harmless plot about a depressed Christmas-store worker learning to heal herself takes a hard turn toward the issue of Brexit, posing the question: Is it really Christmas if nobody addresses the political climate surrounding us? Last Christmas would like to answer that question with a resounding and at times confusing “no.”
English actress Emilia Clarke is Kate, the daughter of Yugoslavian refugees, played by famous Yugoslovian actors Boris Isakovic and Emma Thompson. Or, wait, Emma Thompson is English, but boy does she use a Yugoslovian accent in this film. No, really, I’m asking: does she use a Yugoslovian accent in this film? Uh oh. That’s problematic, no? No? Someone tell me how to feel about this.
If Emma Thompson’s heritage is on your mind throughout the film, it’s also on hers: she feels unwelcome in London because Brexit is underway, and she is not alone. A couple on the bus is subjected to a hateful tirade by an angry white guy who is not cheered by the surrounding Christmas plot of the film and wants his country and bus-ride to be English-speaking. At this point you’re probably wondering: all of this is central to the plot of Last Christmas?
But it does happen in the movie, which is gracious enough to cede some of its 1 hour and 43 minute runtime to some anti-hate messaging. Imagine if Steven Spielberg, instead of making Schindler’s List, an important but very long and sad film, made a Christmas movie that was only comparatively long for its subgenre category and also sad but not in the same historically significant way. You’re bopping along for a full hour to Emilia Clarke’s romantic engagement with Henry Golding, and then Spielberg throws you out of the passenger seat with 45 minutes to go: “Remember Brexit?!” he shouts out the window to you. “It’s happening while these two are falling in love.” So, yeah, that’s Last Christmas in a nutcracker-shell.
You know what else is happening while these two are falling in love? Kate’s boss is Chinese and Kate sure wants a lot of people to know it. Several times throughout Last Christmas she describes her boss’s personality to people: “Asian,” “Chinese.” If you’re thinking, “But wait, isn’t that racist?” Yes, and I can say that with 1,000% more certainty than I can about Emma Thompson’s Yugoslovian accent. Your next thought might be, “So, the whole film is actually a meta-commentary on how even though Kate’s parents are refugees and she is decidedly anti-Brexit and pro-falling in love with a mixed race gentleman, she still falls prey to casual racism?” I’m sorry, but no. It’s probably not, who knows! It’s Christmas in London, and Kate has got to learn to love herself before she worries about all of that sociopolitical baggage! She is also going to help out at the homeless shelter without filling out any prerequisite volunteer forms!
I wish I could give away more of the plot of this movie, as I have done to all of my friends who saw me within 48 hours of seeing it, but here’s what I will say: if you are into ghosts showing up in movies, this is definitely the film for you. Yes, in the midst of Kate’s depression and healing, and while Brexit is ongoing and affecting people’s lives peripherally throughout the movie, there is a ghost just vibing out.
Perhaps the real political commentary of every Christmas movie is that ghosts are real and you better believe in them before they upend your life and teach you a thing or two about not practicing self-care. Look out, Halloween: personal emotional baggage was the real haunt all along. Luckily, Last Christmas not only takes that route, but it one-ups every other Christmas film by inserting a not altogether convincing subplot about Brexit.
Honestly, I’m forever changed by this movie. If I ever see another Christmas release that doesn’t tackle pressing issues such as the impeachment inquiry, fracking, or class inequality, I’m going to be very disappointed. When people ask if I love Home Alone, I’m going to get really serious and say, “I don’t know, do you feel it adequately addresses the recession and subsequent housing bust of 1990 that was happening at the same time the movie was filmed? Kind of odd, considering the movie takes place in a house.”
Pretty soon, people are going to stop asking me questions about Christmas movies, and that’s honestly fine: I don’t want to talk about any subgenre that cannot live up to its shining star, that star being Last Christmas.