Reel Opinions

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Last Holiday

Queen Latifah continues her career downward spiral since her Oscar nomination for 2002's Chicago with Last Holiday - a harmless, yet ultimately bland and unnecessary remake of a film unseen by me. This is the kind of movie that makes you wonder why anyone involved thought it was worth making. It doesn't do anything original or interesting, it's immediately forgettable, and aside from a small handful of clever lines, it's not very funny. Director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club, Because of Winn-Dixie) has assembled a talented and likeable cast, yet the uninspired screenplay gives them nothing to do, which begs the question why even bother in the first place?

Our heroine, Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah), is a quiet woman currently struggling to get by in her current meager existence working as a clerk at a department store. She has a lot of big dreams, such as becoming a world-renowned chef, and confessing her true feelings to cute co-worker Sean (LL Cool J), but doesn't have the nerve or the spark to make her dreams a reality. After suffering a blow to the head while on the job that knocks her unconscious briefly, Georgia is terrified to learn from the company doctor that the resulting CAT scan reveals she has a rare brain tumor and only has three weeks left to live. Deciding to make the most of what precious little time she has left, she quits her job, takes all her savings she's been building up her adult life, and plans to make the most out of life at an exclusive European ski resort doing everything she's always dreamed of. Georgia's newfound free spirited lifestyle brings her to the attention to many of the guests who are also staying at the resort, including the wealthy head of the department store chain she used to work for (Timothy Hutton) who is visiting there with some friends. When his friends start hanging out with Georgia more than him, he becomes suspicious and jealous, and becomes determined to find out who this mysterious woman who seemingly came out of nowhere really is.

Instead of seriously tackling the question of what one would do if he or she found out they only had a short time to live, Last Holiday decides to treat its premise like a sitcom. There are plenty of "wacky" characters who wander in and out of the film as the screenplay sees fit, there's the scheming yet ultimately harmless villain working behind the scenes, and there are plenty of over the top comedic set pieces. But hey, perhaps I'm being harsh. After all, I'm sure the filmmakers were trying for escapism entertainment, so it's understandable that this is the path they chose. While I have no problem with that, my problem is that the movie does not do it very well. Instead of coming across as funny and clever, many of the situations, such as when Georgia tries her luck at skiing, come across as tired and uninspired slapstick with the actors screaming and falling over themselves, but not really generating any real laughs. When I watch a fun "escapism" movie, I just want to laugh and forget about my problems. All Last Holiday made me do was wonder how the heck a script like this stood out amongst the hundreds of others that must wind up on Queen Latifah's desk everyday. That's not to say the screenplay doesn't have its moments. There are a couple of quiet scenes where Georgia has some "conversations" with her mirror reflection about the situation she's found herself in of not having long to live that are heartfelt and true. These moments, while fleeting, do at least show that writers Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman put a little bit of thought into their effort.

While the script may be uninspired, the cast helps lift bring it some much-needed life. As much as I think Queen Latifah needs to be a bit more choosy in picking her projects, she definitely is having fun, and that fun comes through in her performance. Her portrayal of Georgia from meek store clerk to confident woman is likeable and so energetic that she alone makes the film worth watching at least once. Although none of her lines truly made me laugh, Georgia is an easy to relate to character, and is made all the more so by Latifah's performance. That's why it's so sad when the film keeps on throwing her into continuously outlandish sitcom situations throughout the film. Though she never loses the human side of her character, it seems like a mistake, especially when you see what she can do with her character during the film's more quiet and honest moments. The rest of the cast does not quite stand out as much as Latifah, but they at least make the most out of the little the screenplay gives them. There was one actor I wanted to see more of, and that was famed French actor Gerard Depardieu, who plays the chef at the resort who strikes up a close friendship with Georgia. Although he is enjoyable, the movie never seems to dig deep enough into his relationship with her, making it seem a bit more shallow than I think the filmmakers intended. Same thing for LL Cool J as the man Georgia secretly longs for. He spends such little time around Georgia and disappears for so long in the film that you almost wonder what the attraction between the two characters is. Though the characters may not be memorable, the performers give it their all.

Are the performances alone enough to keep Last Holiday afloat? Even Latifah's energetic lead is not enough to prevent this movie from drowning in its own cliches and contrivances. The entire production as a whole feels forced and pointless and never really gives any reason for it to be on the big screen. Even "fun" movies such as this need to have some kind of memorable moment, and this film has none. By the time the film arrives at its almost pre-determined ending (Sorry if you consider the following a spoiler, but anyone who thinks a big studio fluffy romantic comedy is going to end with its lead actress in a casket is a fool.), you just don't care anymore. Although the actors bring their talents to the project, you can't help but wonder why they're even bothering in the first place. This is yet another movie that didn't need to be made, and the money used to make it could have been better served to make a more memorable film.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not of the belief that every movie has to be important or astonishing to win me over. There is a place for mindless, fun movies too. But, if you're going to do it, just do it right. Last Holiday does not do it right, so it does not get a recommendation from me. It's got a great lead character and a charming European setting, but with the prices today's theaters are charging, it takes so much more to make a filmgoing experience memorable.

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