‘Last Christmas’ Is Not A Rom-Com. It’s A Film Starring A Woman
It looks like a rom-com, it sounds like a rom-com -- but that doesn't mean it IS a rom-com.
Last Christmas is the holiday rom-com to fulfil all your warm and fuzzy needs, if you go by the movie’s marketing. There’s only one huge problem with this. While it might still fulfil all your warm and fuzzy needs — Last Christmas is not a rom-com.
Warning: spoilers for Last Christmas below.
I know, I know. It looks like a rom-com, what with Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke posing all coupley in the poster, and all the dreamy looks they send each other in the trailer. It sounds like a rom-com, thanks to the George Michael-heavy soundtrack.
But that does not mean it IS a rom-com.
Like any genre, there’s no one definitive criteria for what is and isn’t rom-com. But as a rom-com expert (watching Never Been Kissed approximately 1067 times in my life has to count for something, right?), here’s my take: a rom-com is a comedy where the central plot is focused on the romance between two people.
Decided to go watch Last Christmas because I thought aw a cute Christmas rom-com… well, now my heart hurts
— Maddie Norman♡ (@maddie_norman01) November 17, 2019
And here’s the kicker: it absolutely must have a happy ending. Not just any happy ending, but one in which the main couple lives happily ever after together. Emphasis on the together.
The marketing of Last Christmas is pretty misleading when it comes to the importance of the relationship between Henry Golding’s character Tom, and Emilia Clarke’s character Kate. Of course, it is a big part of the plot, but not really in a romantic way.
I get why they played up the rom-com angle — they were trying (not very successfully, it’s true) to hide the big “twist”: that Tom is dead and is haunting Kate, who received his heart in a transplant.
Needless to say, Tom and Kate do not end up together. They don’t even end up on the same plane of existence. That in itself is enough to disqualify Last Christmas from rom-com status, but I’d also argue the plot itself isn’t really about their romance. It’s much more about Kate and her journey towards trying to get her life together.
Tom flits in and out of it like the whimsical Christmas ghost/angel he is, says a couple of things that could be ripped off a motivational poster, spins her around, gives her a very chaste kiss or two and then off he floats back to the North Pole or Heaven, or wherever the hell he goes when he’s not badgering Kate into being a better person.
It’s Kate’s story, and Tom is just a part of it. In fact, we barely get to know him as a character — he is literally there purely to service Kate and her arc.
Last Christmas falls much more comfortably into dramedy territory than it does into romantic comedy.
#LastChristmas is a powerful character and societal study that also works as a charming Xmas film, but it was let down by its marketing team that made the twist obvious. Emilia Clarke is a treasure in a role that is very close to home for her and should be our new rom-com queen. pic.twitter.com/5NgROsuveV
— Sam Howe (@SamHowe14) November 15, 2019
Misclassification Matters At Christmas
There are a couple of issues with the misclassification.
First of all, it messes with viewer expectations and risks angering devoted rom-com fans who come to these movies for happy, coupley endings, not plot twists involving death and organ donation. The rom-comification of Kate’s story also speaks to a larger problem of female-led comedies aimed at women automatically being grouped into the genre, whether they fit it or not.
Take Bridesmaids, for instance.
It’s frequently described as a rom-com, but the romance isn’t even the B plot — it’s the C plot at best. Bridesmaids is a comedy about friendship and a woman trying to get her life together. It’s not about romance.
Not only is #LastChristmas not a rom-com (HELLO??? HEA????), but it's not even really a romance! The main characters' relationship is paper thin, and they're hardly on screen together. It was hard to watch when you can figure out the whole plot with one viewing of the trailer.
— Are You Not Entertained?!?! (@entertained_are) November 13, 2019
Meanwhile, The Hangover — another movie about friendship with similar gross-out humour — never gets the rom-com label. It just happens to be about men instead of women.
It’s a problem that crops up again and again. Movies like The Devil Wears Prada, Miss Congeniality, Muriel’s Wedding, Late Night, Easy A, and Mystic Pizza have entered the collective consciousness as rom-coms, when none of them are.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the rom-com label demeans them — quite the opposite.
Mislabeling them actually waters down the idea of what a rom-com is. And it’s a sign of the wider disrespect rom-coms get — and, indeed, the people who primarily enjoy them.
Whether it’s because Hollywood thinks women will be more interested in movies with an emphasis on romance, or, more insidiously, that women’s stories will only be seen as worth watching if a man also has equal footing in the plot (because these movies are, by and large, aggressively heterosexual), pushing any light-hearted female-driven story into the rom-com category is a huge disservice.
It’s okay to just call them comedies, guys. Or dramedies. Or whatever the hell they actually are.
We’ll still watch them. We might even be able to enjoy them a little bit more.