Scraping the bottom of the barrel containing the elixir of rom coms, Paul Feig brings all the holiday cheer to a standstill, with a very attractive looking but frightfully shallow film devoid of both good humour and drama to keep one invested.
If you are a Boomer and in the market for a movie that milks a ‘Wham’ song to the extreme, you will dig this film, but if you are looking for a movie that you will enjoy and remember long after you have seen it, you are better off skipping this one.
Emilia Clarke plays Kate, a stereotypically lost young woman in the big city, who is trying to deal with her Eastern European mother (Emma Thompson, who co-wrote the film), and her menial job at a Christmas store. Kate then finds the ultimate dream machine of a man in Tom (Henry Golding), who ‘understands’ her, and gives her some direction in life. Of course, Kate falls for Henry, but he does not seem to reciprocate her feelings.
You may think the summary sounds like a cookie cutter rom-com, and make no mistake – this film absolutely is one. You would need to be bereft of any kind of cynicism or practicality in life to be able to enjoy this sort of a movie nowadays, because Feig attempts to paint all the genteel ‘niceness’ of the story with a ‘realistic’ approach to issues like depression and alcoholism, but both aspects do not ring true. Feig also attempts to show horn in a pro-immigration stance but the social commentary, like in so many movies lately, is ham-fisted and painfully clichéd.
Feig also fails to explore in any real depth what it feels like to be a fading star struggling to stay relevant – Kate’s character is bereft of agency, and she does little by herself to pull out of her existentialist hole – the messaging, going with the rom-com genre, continues to amplify the falsehood a woman needs a man to rescue her.
Look, none of those issues would have been glaring had the movie offered what it promised – an entertaining love story. But the leads here have the chemistry of white paint meeting a white wall. Both Golding and Clarke lack warmth, and resemble cardboard cutouts placed next to each other during the ‘romantic’ moments. The subplots, featuring Michelle Yeoh as someone named Santa falling for a weird German, another character struggling to come out, and the rise of modern fascism across the world are all too convoluted to make any impact.
The smattering of George Michael’s lyrics provide some fleeting moments of resonance but the fact that the movie is set around a character’s ability to sing checks of all the hackneyed plot points one can think of. It is also schmaltzy in the most unwarranted possible ways. Every time the dour moments kick in, you wonder what exactly is Feig trying to achieve with this film. Silliness and shallowness of material is bad by itself, but insincerity, coupled with self-importance in execution, is something that is really hard to bear when there is such good content at home on streaming platforms.