There is a big (but pretty obvious) twist in the smash-hit rom-com Last Christmas. Knowing it beforehand enriches rather than distracts from the experience – and the same is true for many films of this kind, writes Jenna Guillaume.
Warning: spoilers are below (but maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all).
When the trailer for Last Christmas dropped, it took me and the rest of the rom-com enthused portion of the internet about 30 seconds to start theorising that Henry Golding’s character, Tom, was some sort of ghost or Christmas angel. The way he seemed to magically appear in Kate’s (Emilia Clarke) life just when it was falling apart – after a near-death experience to boot – was too good to be true.
The tagline, alluding to the classic Christmas angel movie It’s a Wonderful Life, all but confirmed this idea. That, and the fact that the movie was based on Wham’s Last Christmas, what with all those lyrics about giving hearts away and all. Could this movie be so on the nose as to have Tom be an organ donor who actually gave Kate his heart?
If you’ve seen Last Christmas, you’ll know that yes, it is exactly that on the nose. Even if you haven’t, you probably already know this to be true. Because, well, it is pretty obvious. While some movie-goers and reviewers have disparaged the predictability of this plot point – and there’s certainly a discussion to be had about the way trailers these days give away so much information – I would argue that in the case of this movie, it actually helps to know what’s coming.
If I had gone into Last Christmas expecting a feel good rom-com, as it appears on the box, only to find out that actually, the hero of the movie is dead and there’s no happily ever after as far as the main couple is concerned, I would have been extremely disappointed and probably pretty damn furious.
There’s a time and a place for shocking plot twists that take your breath away. A romantic holiday movie is not one of them. A fundamental tenet of romance and romantic comedies is that they have a happy ending. Specifically, a happy ending where the main couple get together and stay together. The foregone nature of these stories – combined with all the tropes that get trotted out again and again – lead to a lot of people dismissing the genre (often helped along by a heavy dose of misogyny). But what such critics don’t seem to understand is that’s exactly why fans of the genre cherish it so much.
You turn to romance and rom-coms when you need a boost and an escape. The world is shit enough, but for an hour and a half you can drown that all out with meet-cutes and makeover montages and PG-rated makeout sessions. Knowing that things will work out for the main characters is the main drawcard. To paraphrase Dionne from Clueless, rom-coms give fans a sense of control in a world full of chaos.
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Now Last Christmas does have a happy ending, for Kate at least – but unfortunately not for Tom. His death arguably pushes the movie out of rom-com territory, which is not necessarily a bad thing. At least, as long as your expectations match the experience.
For me, having a pretty good idea of exactly where the plot was going meant that I didn’t get overly invested in the romance. Instead, I saw it for what it was – something that was meant to help Kate. Her encounter with Tom happens not so that she will have someone by her side for the rest of her life, but so that she can get to a point where she’s okay on her own. It’s lovely in a different way, and not being suckerpunched by the big twist meant it still left me smiling and feeling content rather than emotional and upset.
At a time when plot twists are treated as almost sacred, and spoilers are tantamount to blasphemy, knowing what happens – at least when it comes to romance and romance-adjacent movies – means you can let go of the outcome and just enjoy the ride. And really, what more could you want from a holiday movie?