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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Paul Feig
scr Emma Thompson, Bryony Kimmings
prd Erik Baiers, Jessie Henderson, David Livingstone, Emma Thompson
with Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson, Lydia Leonard, Ritu Arya, Ansu Kabia, Boris Isakovic, Peter Mygind, Ben Owen-Jones, David Hargreaves, Jade Anouka
release US 8.Nov.19,
19/UK Universal 1h42
Mixing holiday cheer, a warm romance, sparky comedy and the music of George Michael and Wham, this British romp has everything you want in a Christmas movie, and then some. Sometimes, all of these elements don't quite gel together, but when the parts are this charming, that doesn't matter much. Emma Thompson's writing and Paul Feig's direction keep things funny, stirring up emotion without getting sentimental.
Kate (Clarke) has lost any sense of personal responsibility after recovering from a serious operation. Living from one-night-stand to one-night-stand, she barely holds down her job in the Covent Garden Christmas boutique run by Santa (Yeoh). And she resists turning to her overbearing Yugoslavian parents Petra and Ivan (Thompson and Isakovic), tetchy sister Marta (Leonard) or heavily pregnant best friend Henna (Arya) for help. Then she meets Tom (Golding), who's odd but seems able to cut through the fog in her head. And their romance refuses to evolve the way she expects it to.
The film is full of wistful sequences playing on London's colourful holiday traditions, plus adorable touches like strolls by the river and hidden squares that provide an escape from the hubbub. While much of this is almost overpoweringly quaint, some intriguing edges keep it grounded, such as a few pointed jabs at growing bigotry toward immigrants following the Brexit vote. The plot also has a few sharply pointed turns in it; nothing is particularly surprising, but these do add an inventive slant to the Christmas genre.
Clarke and Golding are charming on-screen, smiley and relaxed in a way that's infectious. Their little walks around town are picturesque and sweet, and their conversations are bracingly transparent. Clarke also manages to remain likeable even though Kate is a selfish idiot much of the time. Meanwhile, Yeoh has terrific comical timing in an energetic role, and has an amusing romance of her own. And Thompson shamelessly steals scenes with a series of snappy one-liners.
The film wobbles in its more heartwarming moments, but thankfully Feig never lays anything on thickly. And the fantastic song score keeps it grounded as well. Audiences will have fun spotting some well-placed cameos (including Rebecca Root, Peter Serafinowicz and even Patti LuPone), and the generally bubbly atmosphere easily overcomes some of the plot's less-developed threads. So when the film resolves into a story of a young woman who learns that nobody else has the power to make her happy, it feels surprisingly fresh.
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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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