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'Last Christmas' review: Mildly charming, comfortingly familiar rom-com

(from left) Tom (Henry Golding) and Kate (Emilia

(from left) Tom (Henry Golding) and Kate (Emilia Clarke) in "Last Christmas."  Credit: Universal Pictures

PLOT During Yuletide, a grouchy young woman meets an upbeat young man.

CAST Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh

RATED PG-13 (grown-up talk and sexual situations)


BOTTOM LINE A treacly rom-com that squeaks by on British charm and George Michael's classic title song.

"Last Christmas," a Yuletide romance about two highly attractive opposites, is an adorable little stocking-stuffer of a movie. Mildly charming and comfortingly familiar, it gets by mostly on the looks and accents of its British stars, its just-shy-of-ironic George Michael soundtrack and a slick script by co-star Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings. It's equal parts '90s rom-com and Golden Age of Hollywood schmaltz, and hard to fully resist.

Its leading lady is Emilia Clarke, of HBO's "Game of Thrones," as Kate, a talented singer with show-biz dreams. A recent medical crisis has turned her cynical, selfish and self-sabotaging, which is strange, since near-death experiences usually have the opposite effect. Never mind, though — with some smeared mascara and a pretty sneer, Clarke convincingly plays a tipsy young single stumbling through the pubs (and beds) of London.

Her leading man is Tom, played by Henry Golding. Tom is a bicycle delivery guy, though his cashmere coat and perfectly combed hair (no helmet, please, he's British) could belong to the billionaire bachelor the actor played in last year's "Crazy Rich Asians." Tom is mysterious and preposterous, a quirky, sprightly hunk who literally pirouettes down the street and says anti-iPhone things like "Look up!" Tom also volunteers at St. Benedict's, which is to homeless shelters what Stalag 13 of "Hogan's Heroes" was to POW camps, a place of boisterous fun and cheeky camaraderie.

To remind us we're in 2019 and not 1950, the screenwriters, along with director Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids"), strike a few modern notes: A same-sex subplot, rumblings of Brexit, an anti-immigrant bully on a bus. Kate's heritage — she's meant to be from the former Yugoslavia — may not fully convince. But it does allow Thompson to ham it up as her mother, Petra, a comically depressed  European who brightens every occasion by singing a wartime dirge.

I forgot to mention Kate works as an elf at a Christmas-decorations shop. The proprietor, who calls herself Santa, is played by a show-stealing Michelle Yeoh. Clarke and Yeoh are so fun together — the self-pitying post-adolescent and the unimpressed auntie —that you sometimes wish they'd never leave the store.

Ah, but Kate must fall for Tom, who knows the location of every secret garden and after-hours skating rink in London, all invariably illuminated by vintage lightbulbs on strings. The movie's final, romantic twist only sort-of works, but that's alright. "Last Christmas" will send you away slightly misty, reasonably satisfied and perhaps humming the unreleased George Michael track from the closing credits, "This Is How (We Want You to Get High)," which is a nice little Christmas present indeed.

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