Life is cliché and no one knows what they’re doing
I’ve got a not-so-secret addiction to movies about creative types who appear to have no prospects, and seem destined to perpetual failure. Often lacking originality and laden with predictability, viewers know that these characters will eventually get the ‘Hollywood treatment’ and find happiness and success by the end of the movie. It’s this set formula that’s part of the allure. Last Christmas, a recent member of HBO’s Saturday night movie club, follows this format, but with a twist, gifting viewers with Christmas in July, whether you celebrate the holiday or not.
I love Christmas. Specifically, I enjoy decking the halls by watching festive movies and listening to Christmas music.
I remember being terrified of my first girlfriend in middle school, mostly because she was a girl and I was a boy. Since we had no connection to speak of, and the fact that I had no clue what I was doing, she broke up with me pretty quickly. My response was to drown my pre-teen sorrows in a never-ending loop of Christmas songs — the sappy ones. I used to love Christmas because it was the ideal time to fall in love, and at that age, I wanted to fall in love more than anything else in the world.
Eventually, I grew up and the holidays became an opportunity to see my family, even if it felt like juggling elves on top of a Christmas tree since my mom, dad, brother, and I are scattered across America.
Anyway, the Last Christmas soundtrack — specifically, Wham! and George Michael — is amazing, and it transported me down Memory Lane (aka eighth grade) to when I gave my heart to someone who gave it away the very next day.
Years later, I traded in looking for love in favor of a writing career, although I know you’re allowed to pursue both.
Most of us have jobs that don’t define who we are — we are not our jobs. In the film, Emilia Clarke’s character, Kate (Katarina), pays the bills by dressing up as an elf in a Christmas store. She’s not an elf, that’s just her job. I get that. I used to hate explaining to people that I’m not a content writer when they asked me what I do for a living, my least favorite questions in the world, even though that’s what I did for a living. I was pursuing an MFA and trying to become an essayist. That’s what I wanted people to focus on, what I aspired to be rather than how I was paying the rent. Kate isn’t a ‘career elf,’ even though she wears an elf costume to a singing audition, which she fails. The point is, she sings. She’s a singer.
At one point, Kate falls into a pile of trash bags, a good metaphor for life. We all face-plant into our own proverbial pile of garbage at one time or another. Life is full of problems that we don’t see coming. 2020 has been a giant, never-ending pile of rubbish.
I know rom-coms aren’t realistic. They’re fairy-dusted with buckets full of movie magic, and always watching them makes me a cheese-ball. But I enjoy watching movies and shows that make me feel good. In a world where it can be so damn hard to get away from the constant stream of negative BS, I won’t apologize for doing something that makes me happy — even if I always know what’s going to happen next.
Last Christmas is about finding the joy in helping others — but knowing when to help yourself first. That’s why when Tom Webster (played by Henry Golding), Kate’s love interest, says he got tired of staring at his hand all day so he no longer brings his phone with him, the audience (aka me) melted. Damn, that’s provocative. Alas, not everyone has that privilege as Tom wears nice clothes that fit him perfectly, even if he’s — MAD SPOILER — a ghost. He keeps his phone stored away and claims all of Kate’s problems would disappear if she ditched hers as well. The majority of us have become a little too dependent on our phones over the years.
Going down the rom-com rabbit hole, Kate has that smile on her face as her bus drives away and she blows Tom a kiss. You know the one — that smile that says, ‘holy shit, I’ve never met anyone like this person. Where have they been all my life?’ I’ve had that feeling a handful of times, and on one occasion, that feeling led to a 3-plus year relationship.
Conclusion: Last Christmas makes me think about my past relationships, and such is the nature of most rom-coms.
In the first part of the film, there are subtle references to Kate’s medical issues, before the audience discovers she had a heart transplant. Fully recovered, Kate wants nothing more than to be treated normally, which is why she and her boss, played by Michelle Yeoh and nicknamed Santa, have a good relationship. Everyone treats Kate like she’s a fragile porcelain doll, which is to be expected because there was something wrong with her, and it’s fair that her family is worried about her life choices. But all she wants is to be treated like a normal — healthy — human, with a dash less judgment.
In true rom-com fashion, Kate has to mess up before she can start putting the pieces back together. In one instance, Kate forgets to lock up at work one night, and someone breaks in — I know. Shocker, right? Her boss proceeds to give her a “this is your last chance” speech in response. In another scene, Kate and Tom have a relationship-defining argument.
Kate claims to be homeless even though she has a family to go home to, something I can relate to as I feel like I’m always one missed rent check away from sleeping under a bridge, or crawling back to the Rocky Mountains with my tail between my legs. I know I’m not alone with these worries — so many of us are in similar situations. Too many of us don’t have savings or a backup plan. If a paycheck doesn’t come through on time, we can’t pay our bills, our lives sink, and we lose ourselves in a pit of depression.
We’re all striving to be something special. Although no one wants to settle, or admit that they did, we tend to not enjoy living in the present moment as much as we should because we’re hell-bent on chasing a dream that’s so much bigger than us. Case in point: Kate wants to be a singer.
To take the pressure off, Kate decides she’s going to stop auditioning for a while. It’s not that she’s quitting on her dreams — in fact, she sang in public and made money. She’s not giving up, she’s taking a break from the pressure and sole-crushing judgment. While a little too pleasant, she wants to focus on being a better person, and in a roundabout way, ends up doing what she loves when she puts on a Christmas show at the homeless shelter and gets to sing for an audience.
Why do you have to be something bigger and better than what you think you are? What’s wrong with taking pleasure in what you’re doing, even if it’s something as simple as stocking shelves with Christmas decorations for a living? Everyone is in such a hurry to get someplace. Titles. Salaries. Promotions. Dream vacations. Why can’t we just be happy for the sake of being happy?
I know my euphoric feelings will probably fade away tomorrow once the morning anxiety hits, but if there’s one thing I hate about a writing career, it’s always having to be ‘on.’ Constantly pitching. Only being as good as my last article. Seeking validation in an industry that can go from crushing my dreams to lifting me onto a pedestal and back again — and all on the same day.
I think what really annoys people about rom-coms — and, face it, most movies in general — is that there has to be this epic breakup or fight scene just so the characters can come back to each other and make up and end up living — you got it — happily ever after. That’s called resolution, baby.
I get why people don’t like watching that. It’s unrealistic and unrelatable. After all, most real-life epic showdowns wreck relationships. Either we never talk to each other again, or the relationship is forever tainted with awkwardness. When fictional characters finally have that breakthrough clarity moment, everything is as light as Christmas Day. That can happen in real life as well, but it unfortunately only lasts a little while before we go back to our normal routines, mindsets, and general bitchiness. I know because I’m guilty of it myself. Trying to become a better person when you’re a naturally born sass-ball is exhausting.
Yes, rom-coms are cliché, but so is real life! Falling in love, getting married, and having kids in the real world is totally cliché, but people do it because that’s what’s expected of them. That’s not to say getting married and having kids is a bad thing. It’s a natural choice for many people — but it shouldn’t be something “you’re supposed to do.” There’s nothing wrong with traditions and wanting to follow them, they just shouldn’t be obligations.
Strip the Christmas music and shiny decorations from Last Christmas, and you still get a typical rom-com character who doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing — until she does. Kate comes to the conclusion that she likes helping people, yet rightfully makes mistakes throughout. That’s all of us, now more than ever. And that makes for great TV any time of year, even if it’s holiday-themed wrapped in glitter and clichés.