Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This film is credited as being based or inspired by a song. It seems like it’s part of a trend this year. This summer we had Yesterday (2019), directed by Danny Boyle, which was titled after a song by The Beatles and indeed references The Beatles therein. We even had Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded By the Light (2019), which was titled after a Bruce Springsteen song and indeed a tribute to Springsteen. This film is based on the 1984 song, written by George Michael. George Michael is credited as being the specific inspiration. He’s probably given that credit because many of his songs are featured on the soundtrack of this film and the filmmakers wanted to honor the late pop star. Unlike Yesterday or Blinded By the Light, this film isn’t specifically about George Michael or his band Wham!. It references him for sure, but the plot isn’t about him. Co-writer Emma Thompson who is a two-time Oscar winner takes lyrics from the titular song and builds a fictional plot around a few lines. What isn’t realized until the end is how literally Thompson uses those lyrics for the plot.
Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones and Terminator Genisys) stars as Kate, a young girl living in London who works at a holiday store called Yuletide. It’s mainly a store that sells decorations or memorabilia for Christmas. When Kate is working, she even has to dress up as an elf as part of her uniform. This store seems to be only viable for a few months at the end of the year. It’s not sure what the store does after New Year’s. Kate has aspirations beyond the store, however. She wants to be a singer and actress. She goes out on auditions for whatever singing or acting work that she can, but she hasn’t gotten anywhere. It’s unclear, though, if this is because she’s just been unlucky or if she’s just not that talented. It could also be because her vices get in the way. It also doesn’t help that she’s homeless and has to crash with friends, different ones every week because she ends up being a very horrible house guest.
Henry Golding (A Simple Favor and Crazy Rich Asians) co-stars as Tom Webster, a bike messenger who does a lot of charity work. Kate first sees him standing outside the Yuletide store looking up at a bird. He later shows up at night and spends time with her when she gets off her job. He seems weird because he’ll randomly do dance moves as he’s walking. He’s also constantly looking up at things. He’s clearly very charming and is trying to romance her. He even does romantic things like break into an ice skating rink in order to teach her how to skate because it will help her with an audition. He even tries to kiss her. However, he disappears for days and she can’t find him. He claims not to have his phone because he’s put it away. His disappearing and unavailability for days throw up some red flags, but she eventually falls for him.
Clarke and Golding have good chemistry. The dialogue or banter between them is funny. It evolves nicely into a sweet and affectionate repartee. Kate’s repartee in particular is a lot of this film’s driving force. Emma Thompson even plays Kate’s mom in this film and her one-liners are great. Kate’s mom is also a way of introducing the issues of “Brexit.” Unfortunately, all this film does is bring up the issue and show us one scene of xenophobia and basically outright racism. Kate’s mom is an immigrant from Yugoslavia and Brexit is largely about being anti-immigration. However, a film like Blinded By the Light does a better job of showing how immigrants feel in England, the love and fear of they have from their perspective.
This film lacks much detailing about the immigrant experience, which is also emblematic of other failings herein. Kate is introduced to a homeless shelter. It’s obvious because Kate is herself homeless. She meets a series of people at that shelter. She chats with them. Yet, beyond the superficial things we see about them, we don’t learn much about these homeless people. We don’t even learn their names. All we see is the guy in the wheelchair and the black guy with the cornrows. Both work at the homeless shelter. It’s not clear if they’re homeless themselves and we don’t learn much else about them. We certainly don’t learn anything about the other homeless people there. They’re all just props for Kate’s potential growth.
Lydia Leonard plays Marta, the sister to Kate. It’s revealed early that Marta is gay. She’s a lesbian with a black girlfriend. Yet, Marta hasn’t really come out to her parents. Her mom thinks that Marta’s girlfriend is just her roommate. Her mom doesn’t know the full truth. Marta’s coming out isn’t ever reconciled between Marta and her mom, meaning there isn’t a scene where Marta talks to her mom or her dad about their feelings or perceptions about it or why Marta couldn’t be honest earlier. It’s just brushed off in the end as not a big deal, but clearly Marta’s coming-out is again just a prop for Kate’s growth. Yet, something like homophobia shouldn’t be used as just a prop.
The film could be excused of its superficial treatment of the people around Kate if the ending were better. Sadly, the ending is a confusing mess, a contrived mess and just a dumb mess.
This film is basically if M. Night Shyamalan directed a romantic comedy. This film has the same twist as Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999). When Tom starts disappearing and his disappearance isn’t really explained, I started to wonder why and one of my guesses was that Tom wasn’t real. I was hoping that guess wouldn’t be true, but Tom was too good and too perfect to be real. He’s basically a Manic Pixie Dream Boy. Yet, that’s become a bit of a trope in Hallmark Channel movies, which would have been fine here, but the filmmakers decided to go a different route.
Kate talks about having received a heart transplant because of a condition she had. She never knew the name of the person who died and had their heart donated. It turns out the name of the person who died and gave their heart, which is the lyric from the George Michael song, is Tom Webster. Yet, the film never really clarifies if Kate is just hallucinating and she’s part crazy or if Tom is an actual ghost who is visiting her.
Either way, there are questions. If Kate is just hallucinating, what is prompting her hallucinations? The timeline of the film is that Kate has had Tom’s heart for a year or more. After a year from the surgery, why would she start hallucinating about the man who gave his heart? How would she even know him or enough about him to concoct this hallucination, which is all true? If Tom is just a ghost, again why would his ghost visit Kate a year after the surgery? If Tom is a ghost, why would he visit her at all? What is his purpose? He knows that he can’t be in a real relationship with her, but his flirtations and his involvement in her life have such romantic overtures that it’s not clear what his goal is. He leads her to the homeless shelter, which prompts her to better her life, but it doesn’t seem impossible that she wouldn’t have gotten there by herself without him. He’s not like Patrick Swayze’s character in Ghost (1990). He doesn’t feel like a fully-formed and independent character. He again is just a prop for Kate, but he’s not even a solid prop. If anything, her so-called romance would have made sense with the black guy at the homeless shelter who does seem like he’s expressing a genuine interest in her. Otherwise, her whole relationship with Tom is just sheer nonsensical.
Rated PG13 for language and sexual content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.