The Last Christmas Party delves into the potent blend of emotions that bubble up at the end of a college semester. Three couples are living their best college life in the crucible of holidays, booze, and relationships among friends and lovers. The intensity of their last night together in New York before heading home sets the stage for the drama.
Charlie (James Williams) and Caroline (Anna Clare Kerr) are friends, but that’s all, as Caroline is seeing Steven (Gabriel Armentano). But he makes it clear to her that they are not exclusive, which causes Caroline some angst, though she agreed to this. Ed (Martin Drop) is in the U.S. on a student visa. He and Jun (Lainey Woo) are working through the renewal of his visa, but Jun finds out from another friend an important detail that Ed had been reluctant to tell her, fundamentally changing their relationship. In the context of this social group, these six spin around each other, not wanting this last night to end, sensing that somehow when they meet again, things will be different.
Drive-by dramatic moments at the party are revisited later, as the narrative’s focus shifts from one relationship to another and then considers the group as a whole. This nonlinear approach works well, giving the same sense one would get while circulating around the party, delivering snippets of interactions out of context that may be explained later.
“Three couples are living their best college life in the crucible of holidays, booze, and relationships…”
The camerawork is in what looks to be natural light, giving the film a vérité sensibility: functional, but not fancy. The background noise does render the dialogue volume occasionally uneven and difficult to understand. The soundtrack warms up the movie with eclectic tracks from indie musical artists Caroline Lazar, Rella, Total Downer, Ritual Boys Club, and MIA.
Christmas is just a setting for this party, as there’s none of the usual saccharine holiday schmaltz and sappy music, but there is a lot of alcohol, drugs, and some sex. In other words, a grown-up party for young adults in New York. Other great cinema college party scenes come to mind when considering this one. It’s reminiscent of St. Elmo’s Fire, but without the suicide attempts, and also there’s some of the flavor of SLC Punk!, the underrated coming of age film by James Merendino.
The characters in The Last Christmas Party are impressively mature for their age, and they maintain a congenial sweetness toward each other despite the challenges to their friendships and romances. Perhaps they are a generation of people who are better than we were. Maybe they haven’t been beaten down by life enough yet to be cynical. The film delivers an entertaining and cathartic look at love and friendship on the cusp of a dynamic life milestone that will leave everyone changed in its wake.
"…Christmas is just a setting for this party, as there’s none of the usual saccharine holiday schmaltz and sappy music..."