"Last Christmas" is the kind of holiday rom-com movie that feels like it shouldn't leave you crying in a movie theater, and yet it probably will. Starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding as Kate and Tom— the former a cynical, spiraling woman recovering from a major surgery and the latter an optimistic, romantic fellow who runs into her at work.
What ensues is not at all a run-of-the-mill Christmas movie, but instead an endearing and enjoyable movie that's both completely predictable and extremely surprising.
Why you should care: This is Emilia Clarke's first major movie post-'Game of Thrones,' and it has a real-world connection to her own near-death experience.
"Last Christmas" is directed by Paul Fiege (who also directed "Bridesmaids"). The screenplay was written by Emma Thompson, who also stars in the movie, and Bryony Kimmings. Greg Wise cowrote the story itself with Thompson, which is based on the discography of pop icon George Michael.
The plot of "Last Christmas" (the title of both Michael's most famous holiday song and the movie) not only seems to be a nod to the musician's actual death on Christmas Day in 2016, but it also has a link to Clarke's recently revealed experience with two brain aneurysms.
"I wouldn't say it was the defining thing that brought me to [the movie]," Clarke told NPR in a recent interview. "Dame Emma Thompson probably was that. But it definitely allowed me to bring quite a lot of truth to what Kate's struggles were, because for Kate she had her health crisis in her early 20s, and that's when I had mine too. And that time for any young person is incredibly intimidating."
This movie marks Clarke's first major film since the end of "Game of Thrones." It's hard not to watch her performance as Kate and feel some catharsis while seeing the character working through the emotional difficulty of surviving a near-death hospital experience.
Clarke, whose best-known role as Daenerys Targaryen rarely allowed for goofiness and jokes and general merriment, shines in "Last Christmas." Just seeing her eventual joy on the screen brings the entire movie's holiday cheer up 10 levels.
What's hot: Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding are rom-com dynamite together, and it's a heartwarming Christmas movie.
Clarke has terrific chemistry with Henry Golding, who starred in last summer's hit "Crazy Rich Asians." This movie just proves that his swoon-worthy antics are the stuff of modern rom-com legend.
The minor characters throughout "Last Christmas" are all wonderfully written, and draw out most of the laughs throughout the movie.
Though the narrative arc between Kate and Tom's characters feels very predictable, all of the subplots to the movie are anything but expected. It's these smaller moments that help boost the movie out of cheesy territory and into a film that is greater than the sum of its parts.
"Last Christmas" is funny when you don't expect it, and emotionally effective right when it needs to be. Much of this balance is achieved from Clarke's performance as the imperfect Kate.
Kate is a messy, complicated, selfish, empathetic, angry, and redeeming character. The movie's ultimate lesson, that every day we can choose actions which make people around us a little happier, is wonderfully realized through Clarke's performance.
What's not: The movie's ending leaves some baffling questions unaddressed that might drive you up the wall.
There are some general thematic choices which "Last Christmas" never explains, like why Kate's character loves George Michael so much. It's a clear plot device to make it so George Michael's music is all we hear throughout the film, and we do see posters of the singer in Kate's childhood bedroom, but a small scene explaining why he is so important to her would have gone a long way.
The movie also ends without explaining a couple of key plot devices, like Tom's cell phone or the unresolved matter of the cute guy Kate meets while volunteering at a homeless shelter.
There's also a little catchphrase Tom uses frequently that I kept assuming would have a significance for the ending of the movie, but it just fizzled into nothing important.
None of these are movie-ruining issues, but it is the sort of movie that makes less sense the more you think about it, even if it was emotionally impactful in the moment.
The bottom line: 'Last Christmas' is a delightful must-see for fans of holiday movies and rom-coms.
If you love the holidays, cheesy movies, the very attractive faces of Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, and laughter, then this is a movie for you. "Last Christmas" is a perfect kick-off to a holiday season when we could all use a little more love and kindness in our world.
"Last Christmas" arrives in theaters on November 8. Watch the trailer below.