Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Last Holiday

LAST HOLIDAY (Wayne Wang, 2006)

Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) lives like her life is on hold. She pines for a department store co-worker but can’t tell him how she feels. She develops her culinary skills but won’t eat what she cooks, giving it away so she can stick to an unending diet. Georgia’s dreams and ambitions exist only as entries in her Book of Possibilities, a scrapbook of an imagined future that documents places she’d like to go, people she’d like to know better, and things she’d like to do. Georgia could use some assertiveness in talking with her secret crush Sean (LL Cool J) and her stingy boss, but otherwise she leads a humble life of admirable restraint.

The universe, though, has a big trick in store for Georgia. In LAST HOLIDAY she bumps her head and is taken to the store’s clinic for a routine examination. Much to everyone’s surprise, the diagnosis reveals that she has a rare terminal illness. Staring at three weeks left to live, Georgia withdraws all the money from her bank account and travels to Karlovy Vary.

Free to take risks, Georgia becomes the center of attention at the posh mountain hotel where she’s staying. She captivates Chef Didier (GĂ©rard Depardieu), one of her cooking inspirations, and Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito), who represents her New Orleans ward. Tycoon Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton), who owns the department store chain where Georgia was employed, fears that this unknown socialite is out to wreck his lobbying of the senator and goes about trying to uncover her identity.

LAST HOLIDAY possesses the look and feel of a 1950s Hollywood film. (As it turns out, it’s a remake of a 1950 British film starring Alec Guinness.) Set in a luxurious locale and awash in generosity for its characters, even the mean ones, LAST HOLIDAY delivers the glamour and sentimentality associated with classic movies. Director Wayne Wang’s film isn’t destined to be a classic, contemporary or otherwise, but it’s a pleasant movie with a light touch and some nice character work.

Latifah is an engaging presence and a gifted comic performer. She’s familiar and larger than life, which is why it’s easy to believe she attracts people to her. As Georgia, Latifah is a beacon of goodheartedness. It’s rewarding to see her cut loose and thwart any ill will directed at her because she conducts herself without an ounce of self-righteousness or pity-seeking. The supporting cast is fun too, with Depardieu making a nice kindred spirit with Latifah.

Since Georgia calls New Orleans home, LAST HOLIDAY gains unintended poignancy. The film’s message of living each day to the fullest seems more immediate when considering the devastation unleashed on that city, even if LAST HOLIDAY wasn’t made with this tragedy in mind.

Grade: B-

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