As movie awards season kicks in and movies about BIG THINGS take over everyone's talk, you might find yourself craving something light yet satisfying. If so, "Last Holiday" might be your dish.
Queen Latifah and LL Cool J star in "Last Holiday." (Paramount)
The Queen Latifah starrer, directed by Wayne Wang ("Because of Winn-Dixie"), blends some funny scenes with a few touching moments, totaling a fine romantic comedy that also stars LL Cool J, Gerard Depardieu, Timothy Hutton and Alicia Witt.
Latifah's character, Georgia Byrd, sells cookware in a New Orleans department store. She loves fine cooking (cue Emeril Lagasse)—at least for other people. For her, it's Lean Cuisine and unfulfilled dreams of world travel with the man (Cool J) who sells grills in her store.
Her outlook changes, however, when she's diagnosed with a terminal illness. After getting the anger out of her system by asking "Why Me?" in a hilarious yet meaningful moment with her church's gospel choir, Georgia finally does it: She takes off for Europe in search of her culinary idol, Chef Didier (Depardieu), hoping to spend her remaining time doing—and eating—the things she never did.
The script by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman puts Georgia at the real Grandhotel Pupp in the Czech Republic, which looks terrific on film. Once there, the plot thickens in ways memorable only for the far-fetched set-ups it offers: Georgia goes snowboarding, Georgia gets a spa treatment, Georgia gets a makeover, etc., etc.
The humor works for several reasons, not the least of which is Latifah's screen presence. The characters she encounters at the hotel (Hutton, Witt, Depardieu) also have good chemistry. In fact, Depardieu is tremendously funny, and LL Cool J delivers an understated but winning performance as the man whose love knows no bounds.
"Last Holiday" will make you wish the theater served up a gourmet meal while taking in the show. Chef Didier's meals (presented on screen with the help of the Food Network) are works of art—much better than the box of Lean Cuisine you see up front.
Director Wayne Wang keeps the movie fairly tame in terms of content. "Holiday" isn't as squeaky clean as "Winn-Dixie"—there are a few remarks about sexual activity—but it's not far behind.
Also of note, Latifah's character carries on constant and respectful communication with God. She goes to church and sings in the choir at Harmony Baptist Church. When she writes a letter anticipating her death, her Bible rests on her desk, opened to Micah.
As most of the country is experiencing a warmer winter than normal, "Last Holiday" offers an escape to the winter wonderland that is the Grandhotel Pupp. It may even inspire you to be more like Georgia—embracing each day as if it were your last.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual references. Reviewer's Note: Just a couple of remarks about sexual activity.
Director: Wayne Wang
Writers: Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman
Cast: Georgia Byrd: Queen Latifah; Sean Matthews: LL Cool J; Kragen: Timothy Hutton; Chef Didier: Gerard Depardieu; Ms. Burns: Alicia Witt; Senator Dillings: Giancarlo Esposito; Congressman Stewart: Michael Nouri.
The movie's official Web site is here.