There is no reason for Last Holiday to be as dire as it is, and we receive glimpses of what could have been sprinkled throughout. Our protagonist gives herself a pep talk in a mirror that achieves a sort of sweetness despite the flowery score welling up behind the scene, and she shares a camaraderie with a legendary chef that one wishes was the subject of the movie, even if it kept the central gimmick intact. Unfortunately, there is a lot of contrivance in this tale of a woman's desire to retain a bit of dignity and agency in the face of her own mortality, and while contrivance is not an inherent evil, here it's blatant and shameless.
In fact, the methods used by screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman to reach the end of this woman's story are so contrived as to be irresponsible. The point should be, if the screenwriters were honest, that Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) is dying. None of the wacky situations in which she finds herself feels at all organic in this plot, which is why the brief interludes with Gunther Didier (Gerard Depardieu), the chef, work as well as they do. Georgia's dream job is to open a restaurant, and these scenes allow us to see the woman in her element as a chef. Director Wayne Wang's camera makes love to the food preparation that we see here. There is not remotely enough of that well-meaning spirit in the rest of the film.
Georgia's life is upended by that deathly prognosis, which is given to her by her doctor after a silly bump to her head in the presence of her crush Sean (LL Cool J) sends her to the emergency room. Given less than a month to live, Georgia quits her dead-end job as cookware associate, sells all her bonds, extracts her entire life savings, and abandons her son Darius (Jascha Washington) to travel Europe in complete decadence. Arriving at a high-end resort, she meets Didier, rubs elbows with her home state's Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito), and clashes with Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton, who deserves better), owner of her department store, who has Georgia investigated out of spite.
Those latter conflicts lead to a lot of strained attempts at screwball comedy and meaningful drama. The film splits the difference by rarely working as either. In fact, on the screwball front, the film quite literally never works, only offering some silly antics, such as BASE-jumping, accidental skiing, and a string of luck at gambling, and pratfalls. As drama, the film offers Queen Latifah's performance, which is solid at capturing some of the awareness of mortality in the character and at making Georgia likable amid those silly antics and pratfalls. The mirror moment, which is placed just perfectly at the crest of the third act, is a good one, too, giving the character a quiet moment of reflection.
It is not enough by a longshot to rectify the film's numerous missteps, though, most of them having to do with the lack of conviction to confront the film's central theme of facing mortality with, well, conviction. This is a movie in which Georgia refuses to tell anyone, including her son, about her prognosis for so long that it ends up going against every instinct we have about and toward the character. It's an irony that breaks Last Holiday far before the movie gains our good will. By the end, we wonder if it was ever truly interested in having any.
Queen Latifah (Georgia), LL Cool J (Sean), Timothy Hutton (Kragen), Giancarlo Esposito (Senator Dillings), Alicia Witt (Burns), Gerard Depardieu (Didier), Jane Adams (Rochelle).
Directed by Wayne Wang and written by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman.
Rated PG-13 (sexual references).
Released on January 13, 2006.