Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
United Kingdom/USA, 2019. Calamity Films, Feigco Entertainment, Perfect World Pictures, Universal Pictures. Story by Emma Thompson, Greg Wise, Screenplay by Emma Thompson, Bryony Kimmings. Cinematography by John Schwartzman. Produced by Erik Baiers, Jessie Henderson, David Livingstone, Emma Thompson. Music by Theodore Shapiro. Production Design by Gary Freeman. Costume Design by Renee Ehrlich Kalfus. Film Editing by Brent White.
Emilia Clarke is a woman on a downward spiral, barely keeping herself employed as an elf in a Christmas-themed London shop while spending her free time eating junk food, drinking too much, snogging the wrong fellow and looking for a place to crash. She is being self-destructive as a way to deal with the emotional fallout of a very serious medical emergency she recently survived. She is also avoiding going back to her Croatian immigrant parents in their suburban home, years after they brought their daughters to the English capital escaping the traumas of the nineties before falling into their own miserable pattern, Clarke’s former lawyer father (Boris Isakovic) working as a cab driver and working late to avoid having to be with her mother (Emma Thompson, who also co-wrote the screenplay) while she is awake. Clarke becomes interested in a handsome bicycle courier (Henry Golding) who stops by her shop and keeps finding ways to meet her despite the fact that she has no idea who he is; the time they spend together inspires improvements in her self care, attitude and ambition, impressing her strict but fair boss (an exquisite Michelle Yeoh) and leading to her volunteering her free time at a homeless shelter. What’s delightful for us is that the character’s love of George Michael means that the story is played to the background soundtrack of the late great singer’s best hits, there are wonderful excuses for songs like “Heal The Pain”, “Faith” and “Freedom” to be played (or in some cases even sung) on screen, but unlike something like Bend It Like Beckham, Clarke’s liking Michael’s music is just a random character trait and not something she references in any meaningful way (like if her parents saw him as the representation of the kind of western gullibility that they are so nervous about avoiding). The sweet tone with which this comedy plays out is consistent, it’s a sincere movie whose heart is genuinely warm and always in the right place (no pun intended), but what it has in sympathy it lacks in sense: a third act twist comes out of nowhere and feels like a slap in the face (even if you do know the words to the title song), suggesting an otherworldly tone that the movie hasn’t prepared us for, having concentrated its energy on reality, medical drama and the connection between past Balkan wars and present-day Brexit-minded intolerance. As with A Simple Favour, director Paul Feig hasn’t figured out how to introduce elements of different genres into a well-known formula, but if you’re already enjoying yourself you might decide to go with its more obtuse elements and not regret the decision. Had the film settled for being a little brother to Love Actually without trying to throw both Bridget Jones’s Diary and A Beautiful Mind into the mix, it would not have been a disappointment, as there are plenty of good-natured laughs in it and the cast enjoys a healthy, tangible chemistry.