Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke in Last Christmas (Photo: Universal)

★★★ (out of four)
STARS Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding

Christmas comes early this year with the release of Last Christmas, a charming seriocomedy that manages to survive its rather obvious twist.

Emilia Clarke is aces as Kate, a cynical woman who works in a unique shop that specializes in offbeat Yuletide items. Ever since a major operation last Christmas, Kate hasn’t been the same. She gets along with her laid-back father (Boris Isakovic), an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia who packed up the family and brought them to London 20 years earlier to escape the war. But it’s rare when she’s not arguing with her successful sister (Lydia Leonard) or her overbearing mother (Emma Thompson), and it’s even rarer when she allows herself any semblance of happiness. That gradually starts to change when she meets Tom (Henry Golding), an affable chap who’s perpetually insisting that she look at the bright side of life.

Thompson, who won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Sense and Sensibility, here shares story credit with her husband (and S&S co-star) Greg Wise and screenplay credit with performance artist Bryony Kimmings. Together, the trio have concocted a disarming piece that, in true Scrooge and Grinch fashion, witnesses the slow and steady thawing of a heart in the midst of holiday festivities.

The movie is so adept at capturing the spirit and warmth of the season that the big twist honestly wasn’t even needed to stick the landing. And since it’s far more obvious than the ones in, say, The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense, it threatens to potentially derail the picture as it heads toward its denouement. Instead, director Paul Feig and his writers have by this point so thoroughly allowed us to invest in their characters that this narrative gotcha ultimately doesn’t seem excessive and might even strike some as unavoidable.

Last Christmas will be met with plenty of “Bah, humbug” jeers, but for those in the mood, it provides a welcome measure of Christmas cheer.

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