In the field of Christmas movies, competition – and the war of opinions – is fierce. From classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street to movies that fail to even mention Christ (looking at you A Christmas Story), a person can find any number of offerings to fill the holiday season. But after you’ve watched all the standard Christmas movies – yes, even Die Hard – I would like to recommend one that might have slipped past your radar when it was released some fifteen years ago.
Last Holiday is one of those movies that really shouldn’t worked. The writers basically rehashed a bunch of old tropes, added some ridiculous circumstances, and copy-pasted familiar caricatures of several types. It could easily have been a shoo-in for a Razzie Award, at least on paper.
What makes this a success, nearly single-handedly, is the pure charm and charisma of Queen Latifah in the character of Georgia Byrd, a saleswoman from Louisiana. The movie wastes little time establishing her as a caged bird, living life carefully portioned out while dreaming about possibilities that seem just beyond her reach. But after being diagnosed with a terminal illness guaranteed to take her life within weeks, she decides that there’s no time like the present to experience all that she can before the clock runs out.
I think it is fair to say that no new ground is being broken here. So well worn is this path that I can hardly blame anyone for taking a solid pass on the movie as described – as moviegoers did at the time of its release (it didn’t even recover the costs of making it, much less show a profit or gain critical acclaim). The trailer, by the way, misrepresents the movie so horribly that I found myself getting angry watching it before writing this. If you intend to watch this movie, don’t watch the trailer beforehand – or at all, frankly.
But really – and I’m not alone in my conviction – you should watch the movie
Here’s my pitch: Take a heavy dollop of the joie de vivre – particularly food-related – from Ratatouille‘s Remy1, add a generous helping of the fish-out-of-water situation of Pretty Woman‘s Vivian Ward, season with the down-home flavor of Louisiana culture & piety, and sprinkle with just a touch of the exoticness of a European Downton Abbey and you’ve got the base recipe. Set within it the fullness of the person of Queen Latifah, uncontainable but never overwhelming – embodying a person who you most want to be, or at least, want to be friends with, a person who knows who she is and what she wants even as she is held back by insecurities and limitations, though chasing them with an admirable humility and verve when finally set free from those chains.
For some, the movie may be cloyingly earnest, a touch on-the-nose, its conceit pushing just past the point of believability, and its resolution a little too neat. I would suggest that this movie is deliberately positioned to break through our cynicism. What is so delightful, so wonderful about Last Holiday is that even in addressing the most skeptical among us, it does so with the gentlest of rebukes and an easy smile – scolding not us but the insecurities & limitations that keep us from enjoying it, and life, while inviting us to rediscover the wonder of savoring the experiences and people that are right in front of us.
Last Holiday is rated PG-13. Though kept to a minimum (indeed, our hero has no patience for foul language), there are several swear words – at least one of which is a narrowly averted f-bomb. There is no nudity, though an extra-marital affair between two secondary characters is acknowledged (and satisfyingly, if belatedly, addressed).