George Michael

Your Christmas or Mine?

08/12/22

Amazon Prime

Christmas movies are so hard to get right, especially when it comes to pleasing a committed Scrooge like me. Much of what passes for festive fare turns out to be inane, tinsel-adorned tat, often built around some available musical output. 2019’s Last Christmas springs immediately to mind. Pitched as a tribute to the late George Michael, it is a big dollop of vacuous candy floss. So I approach this film with some trepidation, noting that it barely registered at cinemas across the UK on its recent release – but a combination of ill-health and freezing weather conditions prompt me to take a gamble on it. I’m glad I do.

Your Christmas or Mine? (terrible title) is written by comedian Tom Parry and directed by Jim O’ Hanlon. James (Asa Butterfield) and Hayley (Cora Kirk) are young drama students in the throes of a heady romance. We first meet them at a busy railway station, where they are preparing to head off to their respective family homes to spend Christmas on different sides of the North/South divide. But, at the last moment, James experiences a sudden overpowering longing to spend more time with Hayley. He jumps off his train, changes platforms and scrambles aboard her service, seconds before it leaves the station.

Unfortunately, Hayley has had the very same idea…

After a sudden snowfall, the twosome find themselves marooned in unfamiliar locations and obliged to spend Christmas with their partner’s families. Once I’ve accepted this unlikely event, things rapidly get more interesting, as James and Hayley realise that neither of them has been entirely truthful. Why does James’ dad, Humphrey (Alex Jennings) hate Christmas so much? Why is Hayley’s dad (Daniel Mays) so obsessed with turduckens? And… who the hell is Hubert?

Parry’s culture-clash comedy sparkles with delightful dialogue, manic misunderstandings and riveting revelations, while the two central characters’ escapades are pitched just on the right side of believability. There’s a poignant explanation for Humphrey’s Scrooge-like persona that unexpectedly gives my tear ducts a bit of a workout; the two leads are immensely likeable, and there are cameos by excellent character actors (Mark Heap, Harriet Walter and David Bradley, to name but three.) Best of all, there are a couple of surprises I genuinely don’t see coming.

Your Christmas or Mine? is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours and, after witnessing some real festive stinkers in recent years, that’s something to be thankful for. If asked for a Christmas movie recommendation this year, I’m happy to go with this.

Or Die Hard. It’s a tough call.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Last Christmas

23/11/19

Last Christmas is a strange film, with an identity crisis every bit as troublesome as the one its protagonist is dealing with.

Said protagonist is Kate (Emilia Clarke) – formerly known as Katarina, but currently in the process of rejecting her Yugoslavian parents and heritage. She’s been critically ill and is recovering from surgery, but she’s struggling to accept the new version of herself, refusing to follow her doctor’s orders, desperate to pursue her singing dreams but unable to perform as well as she used to. It’s a lot for a young woman to cope with, and she’s worn her friends’ patience thin. Her boss (Michelle Yeoh) is wearying of her too: Kate is lazy, inattentive and unreliable, not qualities Santa needs from an elf-assistant in her Covent Garden Christmas shop.

Just as things seem to be spiralling out of control, up pops Tom (Henry Golding), a charming but mysterious stranger, who helps Kate to negotiate her way through the thorny issues she’s entangled in. He’s elusive, though, not relationship material, he tells her. But will her heart heed what he says?

I quite like the schmaltzy plot, but the telling (writing by Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings; direction by Paul Feig) is pretty artless, with huge signposts to the so-called twist, which you can spot from about the twenty-minute mark. And so many interesting ideas are set up and then abandoned, the running time taken up instead with not-quite-there comedic sequences, and characters interacting in ways that don’t convince.

For example, what about George Michael? Kate has a sticker on her suitcase and posters on her bedroom wall; she says she ‘loves’ his music, and it makes a decent backing track. But – so what? Her relationship with her idol is never explored; we don’t learn a single thing about what he means to her. Except, of course, for a queasily literal interpretation of the titular song. And, um, why no gay men – not a solitary one! – in a movie supposedly inspired by Michael? That seems a shocking omission, given his outspoken views on gay rights and representation.

I’m interested in Kate’s rejection of her roots in the former Yugoslavia too. This is a tantalising thread, her frustration with her mother (Emma Thompson) tied up with her desire not to be an outsider, not to worry like her mum about Brexit and hate crimes. But it’s not taken anywhere. True, as she begins to get herself together, we see her speaking her parents’ language to help some strangers on a bus, but there’s a lot more to unravel here.

It’s not all bad. It’s good to see a London rom-com where the characters’ accommodation is credible, for example: all sweet-but-very-cramped apartments or long-commute-away-small-terraces. This makes a change from the usual run of things, where we’re often expected to suspend our disbelief and accept that ordinary working people can live in mansions in zones 1 and 2.

But that’s not enough, is it? Last Christmas can’t quite decide what it wants to be: a knockabout comedy, a heartwarming tale of redemption, or a political satire.┬áSadly, it misses all three targets. This is an over-stuffed turkey of a film, all promise and no prize.

2.4 stars

Susan Singfield