Directed: Wayne Wang
Writer: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, J.B. Priestley (1950 screenplay)
Starring: Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton
Tagline: “Enjoy yourself . . . It might end too soon!”
Trivia: All the dishes served in the movie were prepared by Food Network chefs who traveled with the crew to do the cooking. They also taught Queen Latifah some basic cooking techniques so she would look like a professional chef in the movie.
There’s nothing like the holidays to make you turn to rom-com as a last resort to get over that hangover.
Once all the toasts have been made for the final time and you’ve kissed everyone you can think of as the fireworks pop, you’re likely sitting on the couch in your sweatpants, head pounding, stomach slightly sour, and thinking, How has it come to this? I hear you, and I empathize.
That’s where the rom-com comes in, that wayward genre of sweet serendipity and forgivably thin plots set to rising music that seems to have been elbowed out of the way in favour of prestige television and original movies.
There’s something about the tried-and-true tropes of the romantic comedies from the archetype’s heyday—the ’90s and 2000s—that provide a nectar of nostalgia and comfort that can’t be beat.
Last Holiday fit that bill. It is a nice little rom-com, which packs an emotional punch. It is hard to balance these diverse elements, but the film does a good job of doing just that.
The original script was written by J.B. Priestley and coproduced by him, in 1950 in a movie by the same name with Alec Guinness playing George Byrd who is a sad, anonymous clerk who, believing himself to be terminally ill, spends his savings on a final vacation at an exclusive country hotel. Freed from all inhibitions, he blossoms and discovers the joys of life.
This time Queen Latifah stars as Georgia Byrd In Wayne Wang’s film. After receiving her death sentence, she quits her job at a New Orleans department store and heads off to an ultra-expensive hotel in Karlovy Vary. She’s a would-be gourmet cook and one of her favourite chefs (Gerard Depardieu) works there.
Priestley’s film concluded on a note of tragic irony. The Hollywood version, being very much a death-lite film, ends happily.
Last Holiday is nowhere near the quality of the original but it isn’t an absolute travesty. Some aspects of it, in fact, are pretty clever Americanized updating.
Though the original script was not a comedy the theme of “failing” at life through being afraid to act — is still there. Or it’s there up till the Hollywood typical ending, which we all need to make it into a rom-com.
Queen Latifah deserves a lot of credit for the film’s success, as the actress delivers a performance that is far more compelling and intriguing than anything she’s done before.
The fantastical elements within Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman’s screenplay never come off as over-the-top, although the inclusion of several broadly comedic sequences (ie Latifah’s hijinks on the slopes) can’t help but feel redundant.
In the end, Last Holiday is an admittedly frivolous yet undeniably uplifting piece of work that’s a sure cure for the holiday’s after-effects.
Verdict 3.5/5 Stars in my book