Title: Last Holiday
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Director: Wayne Wang
Screenwriters: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman
Starring: Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton
Last Holiday traps a nice character and a lovely performance in a morass of stupid contrivances and useless complications. It runs a ridiculous 112 minutes, and while I am aware that to call a movie “too long” is the last refuge of a lazy critic, there’s just no getting around it. I felt sure that I could have essentially carved a good film out of the parade of generic excess on display here. Entire subplots would have fallen by the wayside. Certain characters would never have seen the light of day.
The story is simple and familiar: a woman who has spent most of her life dreaming of possibilities (the concept is rather hideously literalized here, with the protagonist actually keeping a scrapbook titled “Book of Possibilities”; no bonus points for guessing the word that inevitably winds up replacing “possibilities”) discovers that she has 3 weeks to live, and decides to go to town — in this case, an exclusive Czech ski resort called Grand Hotel Pupp, pronounced “poop.” At its core is something potent, universal and sad: the prospect of realizing that your time is almost up and your life is a collection of regrets. A movie that deals with this head-on, even in broadly comedic fashion, would be at least potentially welcome.
But Last Holiday seems to only be peripherally interested in what it purports to be about. Instead, when Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) quits her job as a sales clerk at a department store and arrives at the Grand Hotel Pupp, the screenplay embroils her in a ridiculous quasi-mistaken identity subplot involving a senator from her state (Giancarlo Esposito) and an arrogant businessman and author of a book titled “Young, Hip and Rich” (Timothy Hutton). And so the movie has to launch into a moronic incarnation of what Ebert termed the Idiot Plot — a situation that could be resolved if only someone would ask a simple and completely obvious question. Worse, none of it goes anywhere, and none of it is funny; Hutton is wonderful and extremely game to play an arrogant prick, but the most amusing thing he gets to do is wear a jumpsuit. Not only does the film contain myriad extraneous nonsense, but it doesn’t even know how to make it independently entertaining.
What’s unfortunate is that the screenwriters felt the need to add all of this material when the plot kernel that should have become the film’s focus is right there in plain view. Georgia’s relationship with the world-famous chef at the Pupp (Gerard Depardieu) is so sweet, Depardieu’s performance so adorable and funny in a down-to-earth way, that it was the only element of Last Holiday I actually wanted to see expanded. Instead, the movie wastes time on Hutton’s character paying a valet to snoop in Georgia’s room for her identity, etc. Why? Who cares?
Underneath this, the movie’s heart is in the right place, and it has a tremendous asset in Queen Latifah, who effortlessly sells her character from her beginnings as a prim, quiet sales clerk through her flowering into a glamorous, fearless free-spender. She sells even the long stretches of rather maudlin sentimentality that populate the third act, though the usually charismatic LL Cool J brings the movie down as the puppy-dog-faced love interest.
If I were more cynical, I would point out that Georgia’s speechifying about how “some of the things we care about a lot are pretty worthless” rings a bit hollow given how her “last holiday” consisted of spending several hundred thousand dollars at a luxury resort. If I cared a whit about plot inconsistencies, I might also object to the notion that Georgia can afford this absurd vacation, but not the life-saving operation that her HMO conveniently won’t cover. Ultimately, though, that stuff is water under the bridge. Last Holiday wastes away any audience goodwill by muddling an elegant dramedy with an enormous load of boring, formulaic crap.