Following a string of unmistakably American comedies like Bridesmaids, Spy and Ghostbusters, director Paul Feig has switched gears for his latest movie, trading his trademark brand of crass hilarity for a more reserved and nuanced British sensibility. The film is Last Christmas, a British rom-com starring Emilia Clark, Henry Golding and Emma Thompson, and it weaves together a blossoming romance story with a soundtrack comprised entirely of George Michael songs.
Feig spoke to STACK about his love for Christmas movies and took a stance on one of the most pressing issues of our time. “I know there’s debate, but I say that Die Hard is a Christmas movie,” he says with a cheeky grin before sharing a few more holiday favourites. “My favourite movie of all time is It’s a Wonderful Life, and I adore Love Actually too.”
Written by Emma Thompson and her husband Greg Wise, Last Christmas tells the story of Kate (Clarke), a reckless twenty-something whose run of bad luck has her cross paths with a handsome stranger, Tom (Golding), and with an ongoing reminder to always ‘look up’, their story becomes one of romance, redemption and reinvention.
While some might consider such a British story to be a big ask from a prolific voice of American comedy, Feig explains that there were no barriers.
“My whole life has been influenced by British comedy and I actually felt very at home. We didn’t have too many references or jokes that wouldn’t work for an American audience and Emma and I compromised on some things so that they would work for all audiences. But overall, I think if you look at a lot of my comedy, it kind of does have that feel to it.”
As it turns out, Feig’s appointment as director came about when he was originally attached to a different project. “Emma and I were supposed to do Late Night together, the Mindy Kaling movie, and I flew to London to spend time with her to develop the character. We just hit it off and realised that we have a very similar sensibility. Eventually the scheduling didn’t work out and I had to drop out of that movie, so we kept in touch discussing what we were going to do together, and I guess she just felt like this was the one.”
Despite the film’s title deriving from the famous George Michael song of the same name, Feig was adamant about not tail-coating the success of artist-focused films like Yesterday and Blinded by the Light. “I didn’t want to do a jukebox move and it had to feel organic,” he explains. “Aside from the title of Last Christmas, Emma had put a few placeholders into the script for some of George’s songs, but it wasn’t until his estate showed me a documentary that he directed for the BBC that I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, his music has to be the thing that ushers us through this film.’”
With an infectious sense of joy he goes on to describe how George’s music is infused into the story. “When you hear his lyrics and his music, it’s clear that his DNA is hard-baked into this. Also Emma knew George and had met with him about the script and he really loved it and wanted to be involved with the music. Even though he is not with us anymore, the movie was demanding him. So we started by clearing five of his songs to use in the movie, but by the time I got through post-production we had 15 songs in it.”
With an ever present tone of optimism, Last Christmas is also riddled with other themes; some obvious and others subtle, and when asked what he would like audiences to take away from his movie, Feig was excited to spread the message of goodwill.
“Just the idea that we’re all in this life together. There’s so much divisiveness and intolerance going on right now, and fear of the other that it just feels like the right movie at the right time. I feel like this is the right antidote to just how exhausted we all are right now from all of the divisiveness that’s going on. Its just a very good natured film about how to repair your life.”
Returning to other important topical issues, we pose Feig a question that many have personally struggled with over the years: Christmas movies outside of the Christmas period – yay or nay? With a laugh, he had no hesitation responding, “Oh it’s a definite yay from me!” before enthusiastically elaborating on the matter. “I think there’s nothing nicer than checking in on It’s a Wonderful Life in the middle of summer. Christmas is such a great time of the year with feelings of charity and love and we completely forget about that when we get to the middle of summer.”
Of course we reminded him that Down Under we do, in fact, celebrate Christmas in the summertime – an oversight that amused him greatly. “Oh yeah. Then you should watch it when it’s cold. How weird would that be?
If his affinity for It’s a Wonderful Life wasn’t abundantly clear, his answer to what movie would be perfect for double billing alongside Last Christmas was a swift reminder. “I think that would have to be It’s a Wonderful Life, but the black and white version. I’m very anti-colourisation.”
As for some of his favourite Australian films, we congratulate him on being the first American to NOT declare Mad Max as his favourite, although he couldn’t help but confess his love for it nevertheless. “Oh gosh, yeah. I mean, Strictly Ballroom! And Muriel’s Wedding. I love The Dish, I love The Castle, and I love all of the Mad Max films, my God!”
Two things are certain; Paul Feig is a class act and Last Christmas is this year’s must-see film of the season.
Last Christmas is screening in cinemas nationally. Pre-order your copy at JB Hi-Fi today.