As the director of Spy, A Simple Favour, Ghostbusters and Bridesmaids, Paul Feig has dealt with car chases, ghosts, murder plots, and uncontrolled defecation. But with Last Christmas he’s taking on his biggest challenge yet: George Michael. And it turns out, Feig’s a fan.
“Honestly, this movie could easily be called Heal the Pain. I had never heard it before and now I literally think it’s probably the best pop song ever written.”
Feig wasn’t exactly a stranger to Michael’s work before this film – he cites ‘Freedom! ’90’ as one of his all-time favourites – but it wasn’t until he agreed to direct Last Christmas that he took a deeper dive into his music.
“That’s where I suddenly started going, ‘Oh my god – here’s all these songs that are so great and they’re also so representative of the emotions and characters’. That’s why I started putting the music into the film so much.
“What I found watching the film [was] that the songs really do to add another layer to things. Most of the time, we tend to, well – me personally, at least – think of George Michael, as a guy who did a lot of pop songs and did some ballads, but the movie really brings out the fact that he’s got a very deep catalog. There’s a lot going on there that covers a really wide range of things.”
There’s definitely a lot going on in Last Christmas, which mixes the currently fashionable trend for jukebox musicals (though here the characters only sing a handful of times) with the always on point Christmas movie to create a tale that’ll hopefully bump Love Actually from high rotation during future holidays.
Kate (Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones) isn’t exactly living her best life. An elf-slash-shop assistant at a Christmas store run by “Santa” (Michelle Yeoh), she’s basically homeless and drifting through life (and various men’s bedrooms) leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. Then she meets Tom (Henry Golding), and while he seems hard to pin down, he also seems interested in her in a way she hasn’t felt in a long time. Could a Christmas miracle be close at hand?
Written by Emma Thompson (who also plays Kate’s immigrant mother), it manages to mix a heartwarming Christmas story (a homeless shelter plays a prominent part) with romance and comedy. There’s a lot going on here (Yeoh turns out to be hilarious), but for Feig the core of the story was always going to be the leads.
“Getting the leads right was the was the main thing,” says Feig. “Henry had worked with me on A Simple Favour so I was determined to work with him again, and I’ve been dying to work with Emilia – I met with her four years prior and discovered how funny she is, you know, beyond being such a great actress.
“What I love about her role is that it’s very complex. She’s got to be funny and get into physical comedy, but she’s also a very challenging character. I don’t know how many movies that have a lead woman who comes out of the gate, so, so misbehaved, and not doing what your standard movie heroine should be doing. That’s what I loved about it. I love the challenge of that.”
It’s a challenge that audiences seem increasingly willing to take on, with television increasingly embracing the idea of women behaving badly, but Feig points out that it’s not universally accepted yet.
“You still find resistance from, quite frankly, the older female audiences. When we do our test screenings, a lot of women 35 and older cross their arms at her a little, but young women in the audience really related to her – I think her problems are a little more kind of modern in that way. But you know, there’s still a long road to go and you know, what guys can get away with in movies some audiences have a hard time watching women doing it.
“That’s why I was want to do movies where we take that on and actually show female characters and all their humanity. You invest in people who are strong and weak and smart and yet make mistakes and are vulnerable, you know, conflicted and insecure. That mix is who we all are. You know, I really enjoy superhero movies but I don’t want to make them.”
So what does he want to make next? He’s currently attached to Dark Army, Universal’s latest attempt to revitalise their classic monster characters, and for now, he’s happy to play with other people’s toys.
“I’ve got a drawer full of passion projects, but I tend to kind of not want to make those because I’ve seen so many directors hit the rocks with their passion projects. When you have a hit, that’s when you need to move forward and find the next project that you are passionate about that’s going to draw an audience.”
Last Christmas is in cinemas now.
Written by Anthony Morris