Emilia Clarke stars in holiday outing that can't capture its seasonal spirit

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Great song. So-so movie. 

"Last Christmas" takes Wham's heartbroken holiday classic and folds it into a labored story with the forced holiday cheer of an ugly sweater party. 

Thankfully the radiant Emilia Clarke is at the center of it, trading in her "Game of Thrones" dragon wings for a Santa's little helper costume. She could bring a smile to the grouchiest of Grinches, and this tale needs her bright, buoyant energy. 

She stars as Kate, a screw-up in London who can't get her life together. She couch surfs at friends' apartments, can't keep a relationship and holds down a menial job at an all-year, all-Christmas store, selling trinkets for owner Santa (Michelle Yeoh). 

One day she's visited by a mysterious man, Tom ("Crazy Rich Asians'" Henry Golding), who takes her on a stroll through the city and allows her to see the world around her with fresh eyes. He encourages her to be a better version of herself. But when she really needs him around, he's nowhere to be found.

"Last Christmas" is soundtracked to the music of George Michael, but doesn't know what to do with it; his "Praying for Time," a solemn cry for understanding in a world torn apart from within, is used as a romantic backdrop in a scene where Kate and Tom go ice skating. It's not exactly "I Want Your Sex," is it?

The screenplay, co-written by Emma Thompson, hangs on to a central secret long past the point where it's still a secret, and it shoehorns in messages about immigrants and tolerance with the nuance of a Christmas Day parade. And director Paul Feig, who usually betters the material he's given, struggles to find the natural beating heart in the story.

It all builds to a big holiday singalong, but the cheer is absent. The song "Last Christmas" will endure. The movie, not so much.  

'Last Christmas'

GRADE: C

Rated PG-13: for language and sexual content

Running time: 103 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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