Paramount // 2006 // 111 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 9th, 2009
"You and I know the secret to life: it's butter." -- Chef Didier
I'd been on this Earth more than twenty-five years when I decided to sit down and watch that Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life. I found it to be one of the most depressing cinematic spectacles I've ever seen. Sure, the last 15 minutes are very moving and quite tear-jerking. However, the previous 85 minutes are a depressing litany of failed opportunities and personal sacrifices for the likable George Bailey. Whatever happy message the finale told was overshadowed, and as the credits rolled I was anything but uplifted. The curious reader might be wondering what It's a Wonderful Life has to do with the Queen Latifah vehicle Last Holiday, other than they're both Christmastime films. Well, Last Holiday completely switches the formula of It's a Wonderful Life, dispensing with the depressing aspects of the main character's life in the first 15 minutes, leaving the rest of the film free to be cheerful and uplifting. It's not a perfect movie, but Last Holiday brings a cup of good cheer to the Christmas movie list.
Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah, Chicago) lives a safe life as a cookware saleswoman for the Kragen empire. She's a wonderful cook, but doesn't eat anything but Lean Cuisine. She has a crush on her co-worker Sean (LL Cool J, Any Given Sunday), but is too scared to do anything about it. After she hits her head at work, Georgia is given a CAT scan which reveals that she has a rare disease that will kill her in the next three weeks. Because she's lived such a scared, safe life, Georgia decides to cash in all her retirement funds and blow it all on a last romp at the famous Grandhotel Pupp, where she hopes to meet one of her heroes, chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu, CQ). Also relaxing at the hotel are Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton, The Good Shepherd), the owner of the store Georgia worked at, and a pair of congressmen he hopes to woo into passing a new bill that will increase his empire. With an attitude born of her knowledge of impending death, Georgia takes on life with a zeal that transforms everyone around her.
Last Holiday manages to cram a signficant number of plots into its 111-minute runtime. There's the carpe diem lessons of the dying Georgia, the romantic story with Sean, numerous bits of physical comedy, and a nice "big bad industrialist gets his due" subplot. For all those threads, Last Holiday glides smoothly along, never letting the audience forget that Georgia is not long for the world, but also keeping the pace fast enough that we don't get depressed by this knowledge. With that said, I also don't think there are any surprises to be found in the film. The girl gets the boy, the industrialist gets outed as a bad guy, and everyone learns a valuable lesson and lives happily ever after. But Last Holiday is a movie about the journey, and enjoying it, rather than the destination. Along the way there are some clever bits of dialogue, some cute montages, and a host of funny characters who populate the GrandHotel Pupp.
None of this would work, however, without some serious onscreen talent. Queen Latifah is uniformly excellent as Georgia Byrd. She's utterly convincing as a wallflower in the film's opening scenes, but equally impressive as a strong-willed woman as the film progresses. Gérard Depardieu is another standout, as his intense look and lilting accent bring significant gravity to the role of Chef Didier. Timothy Hutton has gotten a lot of mileage out of his angular good looks, and he plays a spoiled, competitive industrialist perfectly, never being too serious for the film's tone but always seeming a little menacing. Alicia Witt is predictably solid as Kragen's assistant, and Giancarlo Esposito brings his usual flair to the senator from Louisiana.
The solid performances are matched by a solid presentation on this Blu-ray disc. The 2.35:1 widescreen transfer is predictably good for a film this recent. The mountains and snow surrounding the Pupp are rendered with clarity and brilliance, while the often bold colors shown inside are appropriately rendered. Neither grain nor compression artifacts are a problem. It's not the best transfer in the world, but suits the material well. The audio performs similarly, with clear dialogue and effective use of music.
The extras include three featurettes that cover the film's long production (twenty-three years from concept to screen!), as well as the characters and actors. There is also a pair of deleted scenes which could have been left in, and the film's theatrical trailer presented in high-def. It doesn't appear that the text-based recipes from the DVD edition of the film made it on to this Blu-ray disc.
I don't think I've ever said this before, but I wish Last Holiday had cut down on the language a little bit so that it could be a more of a family movie. The film's message is almost certainly appropriate for the 10-plus crowd, but the film's fleeting curse words and references to oral sex will likely keep this from family viewing. This is doubly disappointing because those jokes and situations aren't really necessary.
Those looking for wholly original comedy should certainly look elsewhere. Last Holiday doesn't try to break any new ground in its pursuit of laughs.
Although I doubt it's destined to become a classic like It's a Wonderful Life, Last Holiday provides a compelling carpe diem message, lighthearted comedy, and solid acting that creates a delightful Christmas confection that should add to any holiday movie viewing. The solid technical presentation on this Blu-ray disc make it easy to recommend, and the extras, while not exhaustive, provide insight into the making of the film.
Life is too short to dislike a film like Last Holiday. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes