Review: Last Holiday (2006) *****

Normally, I’m the last person who would get into an inspirational romance, but tis the season for clicking on movie thumbnails that look vaguely like holiday romcoms. I went into Last Holiday knowing it’s only a Queen Latifah comedy. I was pleased to find a movie that fully embodies the holiday cozies that I seek during my yearly holiday movie thing. (art credit: me, Sara)

So here’s the sitch: Latifah has been working hard at a retail job for a decade, putting her trust in God that as long as she keeps herself right, everything will turn out right. She’s got a diary of potentials that includes a fabulous life full of vacations and love (with hunky coworker LL Cool J). But first she’s gotta work hard, help out her sister and neighbors, and keep going to church. Things have struck a sorta dull rhythm until our gorgeous heroine’s life gets shaken up by the misdiagnosis.

The idea has potential for getting depressing – I can ruminate on dying without help, thank you – but the emotional moments are strong without becoming overwhelming. It’s extremely fair for anyone to melt down a little bit over a terminal diagnosis. But Latifah’s character permits herself few moments of self-pity. Her relationship with herself is strong, as is her relationship with God, which doesn’t exactly waver but does often prompt Latifah to Give Him the Eye and ask, “Really?” The whole “Why me?” chorus she shares with her church community is heart-wrenching.

But still, it’s mostly light, and there’s a lot of quality class commentary going on. Retail’s a job with a lot of disrespect coming straight from the managers who don’t recognize you. Latifah’s main method of survivalism has been learning to keep her mouth shut. She’s totally lost her voice.

Once she realizes that being good in life hasn’t led to the best outcome, she decides to stop deferring her joy. Latifah cashes out on her assets to embark on a luxury European vacation. She also finds her voice. She meets everyone with complete honesty–but also complete compassion. And the world around her heals a little bit for it. Just a little. But oh boy does it feel good.

Bear in mind that this movie is loosely adapted from a 1950s flick starring Alec Guinness; this screenplay was originally intended for John Candy (with Carl Reiner directing no less!). I bet you can imagine the pure heart that is written into our hero/ine, then–along with strong physical comedy demands that Latifah meets wonderfully.

I mean it as the highest praise when I say that I think Latifah did as well as Candy could have in bringing her entire heart to the character, but she wears it on her outside more than I think Candy might have, and fairly so; this is a working class character who goes on vacation and immediately is forced to deal with her corporation’s boss. Like, can’t she relax before she dies?

If you’re familiar with the trope at play here, you know the movie’s going to have a happy ending. In fact, it’s pretty uniformly happy. I love it when romantic comedies take an opportunity to place us in a fantasyland that gives humanity some credit. People really are generally nice! Or at least, they want to be. Even the billionaire boss has his glimmering moments of humanity, and Latifah’s character is open-hearted enough to witness it, even if she’s got the boundaries of steel to protect herself too.

The romance here is an important relationship but not the most central one; I’d argue that’s between Latifah and God. But Hunky LL Cool J performs fabulously as a man whose job is to be head-over-heels for a woman as perfect as Latifah. That man faces a fear of flying to hike across an avalanche to make sure he can tell her that he loves her before she dies. Like, oof.

She also befriends an unexpected but charming Gerard Depardieu, and their chemistry is so good, I actually kinda wanted them to end up together. Can she have all of them? Giancarlo Esposito too. She’s way too good for him, and she’s right to turn him down, but also I argue that he is very cute and maybe she can fix him idk. This is a fantasy of hope, right?

I’m totally putting this on my yearly circulation, right with other ultra-cozies like While You Were Sleeping and When Harry Met Sally.

(image credit: Paramount Pictures)

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