Last Christmas, Kate was dying and had to have a heart transplant. Before she got sick, Kate was vibrant and fun. She worked hard and aspired to become a singer. But after the surgery, something changed. Everyone keeps telling Kate that she’s lucky to be alive, but she doesn’t feel alive.
Kate’s supposed to be taking things easy and getting back to “normal,” but she’s tired of people telling her what to do. They don’t understand how not normal her life is and how lost she feels. She copes with her despondency with sex, booze and lots of junk food—all the things her doctor cautions her against. But if anything, things are only getting worse.
Kate is just about to hit rock bottom (she’s homeless, on the verge of losing her job and just failed miserably at an audition for a musical) when she meets Tom. Tom is unlike anyone she’s ever met. He’s quirky and weird (the guy keeps his cell phone in a cupboard), and he keeps telling Kate to “look up.”
Initially annoyed, Kate gradually finds herself drawn in by the magnetic appeal of Tom’s positive attitude. She starts looking up—literally and figuratively—and realizes that even though her heart healed physically from the illness, it hasn’t healed emotionally. Thanks to Tom’s influence, she stops indulging in self-destructive behaviors and tries to get her life back together.
Kate naturally wants to share this new, healthy version of herself with the person who inspired it. But how do you get in contact with a guy who hides his phone in a cabinet?
Kate is described by her family and friends as selfish, lazy and “the furthest thing from an adult I know.” She stubbornly refuses to take care of her body and even jokes about dying young like Kurt Cobain. However, after Tom starts to show her the beauty in the world around her, she turns this behavior around. She eats healthier food, limits her drinking habits and stops sleeping around with strangers.
Kate also makes a conscious effort to restore the relationships she’s damaged over the past year, apologizing to her friends and reaching out to her mom, Petra, whom she’s been avoiding since her heart surgery. Kate also begins volunteering at the homeless shelter where Tom works, singing in the street and setting up a Christmas show to bring in donations.
Kate sees Petra as a controlling worrywart. And she’s not the only one: Petra’s husband avoids her during the day, and Kate even asks her dad why they won’t divorce. Those aren’t positive things, obviously. However, both of them know that Petra loves them deeply, if not perfectly, and they make an effort to accept Petra’s annoying flaws.
Kate comforts her mom and a couple on a bus when people are rude to them about being foreigners. She also helps set up a date between her boss (a woman named Santa) and a man she’s infatuated with.
Kate works in a Christmas shop that sells a variety of holiday decorations, including manger sets and menorahs. One Santa Claus figurine holds a Ten Commandments tablet. A particularly garish manger scene features a full-toothed baby Jesus, a smiling donkey and disco music. When a customer is indecisive about which baby Jesus she should purchase for her manger, a store clerk sarcastically suggests buying both and pretending that Mary had twins.
A children’s choir sings in a church. Someone says that God is a woman. Another character says that being pooped on by a bird is good luck. A guy makes a joke about being psychic. A Sikh man drives a bus. “Joy to the World” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” are both played in the background.
[Spoiler Warning] Ready for the story’s big twist? Kate discovers that Tom actually died in a car accident the previous Christmas on the same day that she had her heart transplant. In fact, she received his donor heart. It is unclear whether she has been seeing some sort of ghost or if his presence is merely an elaborate construct of her mind. However, after learning the truth, she bids farewell to Tom and doesn’t see him again.
Kate and Tom kiss twice. Kate pulls her shirt collar down to reveal to reveal the top of her heart surgery scar to Tom, who touches it. Kate lies in Tom’s lap on the floor and asks if they can lie down in the bed. He agrees, but then tucks her into bed alone. When she protests, he tells her that this is close enough for now, especially since they hardly know one another.
Although sex is never seen onscreen, it is talked about often. Ever since her surgery, Kate has made a point of having sex as often as possible (often with men she meets on a Tinder-like dating app called “Swiper”). Her reckless behavior in this area of her life has become a point of contention with Kate’s family and friends, who recognize how destructive it is to her. Many of her friends won’t allow her to stay the night because they fear she’ll bring home a stranger. (A fear that is warranted, since we see Kate sneaking a man out of her friend’s house.)
Kate wakes up apparently naked in a man’s bed (though she’s covered by blankets). After the man leaves, Kate showers (where she’s seen from the shoulders up) and finds out that he has a girlfriend because that woman opens the shower to discover Kate instead. (The other woman is apparently wearing nothing but a robe, which is open, though we only see her from the shoulders up as well.)
Marta, Kate’s sister, is in a same-sex relationship with a woman named Alba. Kate points this out to their parents, who are shocked. But by the end of the film, they have accepted their daughter’s relationship, and they’re making lesbian jokes. In a flashback, a young Marta exchanges a suggestive look with another young girl singing in their church’s choir.
A woman is alarmed when she finds a “naughty” dress among her daughter’s clothes. A man sings sans pants outside a homeless shelter. A woman sings a crude and sexually graphic song about sex. Men wolf whistle at a woman changing her clothes in an alleyway. (She thought her friend was blocking their view.) A man puts his hand over a woman’s heart. A brothel is mentioned. Foreplay is brought up. A woman asks if a man is gay.
One character gets hit by a bus (though we don’t see the actual accident, just the events leading up to it). Two people are rushed into a hospital on gurneys. Doctors make an incision on Kate’s chest in preparation for her heart transplant.
A woman drops a running hairdryer into a fish tank, electrocuting the fish inside. A woman’s singing is compared to waterboarding, and someone jokes about wanting to string themselves up rather than listen to it.
Crude or Profane Language
The s-word is used 10 times (including one use in the past tense). “H---” is heard half a dozen times, and “p-ss” is also heard once. A variety of British expletives are used, including “bloody,” “b-llocks,” “b-ggar,” “s-dding,” “tosser” and “w-nker.” Christ’s name is taken in vain six times, and God’s name is misused another 10 times.
Kate’s family debates the correct translation of a certain Serbo-Croatian curse word referring to the male anatomy. Other jokes are made about male and female genitals.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Kate drinks in bars on several occasions and gets drunk twice. She often talks about getting drunk and invites friends to join her, but they decline and caution her to be careful. As she cleans up her behavior, she begins to exercise self-control by limiting herself to just one drink. However, in a bonding moment with her mom, the two women knock back multiple shots at a marketplace, and Petra coughs at the strength of the liquor. Kate buys her sister an expensive bottle of wine as a peace offering.
Other Negative Elements
When Kate forgets to lock the store one night in her urgency to get to an audition, the store is robbed. When talking to the police, she doesn’t confess that detail, thus allowing them to assume it was a typical break-in. Later, Kate’s boss tells her that she knows Kate forgot to lock up because she found the door wide open. She broke the window herself because she knew that if it didn’t look like a break-in, she wouldn’t get any insurance money, and she berates Kate for “forcing” her to break the law.
Kate and Tom break into an ice rink to practice for an audition. Kate gets distracted while she’s supposed to be monitoring food at the homeless shelter and as a result, several men come by the table and steal food. Kate lies to her doctor about eating healthily and avoiding alcohol.
A man screams at a couple on a bus to go back to their own country when he hears them speaking a different language. Casting directors for a play are rude to Kate when her audition goes poorly, commentating negatively on her performance. Another group of casting directors mocks her as well. A woman outside the homeless shelter tries to get people to come to a Christmas show by screaming profanities at them. Kate pretends to be the KGB to get her mom to open the door to their house.
A bird defecates in a woman’s eye. Someone trips into a pile of rubbish.
Last Christmas tells the sweet story of how a woman struggling with depression (and self-loathing) learns how to heal her heart. However, prior to her redemption, many of Kate’s actions are anything but sweet.
Kate is mean and selfish. And if it weren’t for the jolly and pure soul of Tom, she likely would have wasted the heart that was donated to her by dying young from self-neglect. And while Kate eventually reins in most of her wanton, self-destructive behavior, her tongue remains as sharp as ever, right up to the end.
Despite this, Kate does learn a valuable lesson—one that she tries to impart to others: “Helping each other is what makes us happy.” That’s a pretty nice moral in a film that isn’t always quite so nice.