January 24, 2007 -- “Last Holiday” is a nice little romantic comedy which also packs an emotional punch. It is hard to balance these diverse elements, but the film does a good job of doing just that. The script is based on a 1950 Alec Guinness movie of the same name. This time, Queen Latifah (“Chicago”) stars as Georgia Byrd, an under appreciated cook in a department store kitchen section. She loves to cook exotic dishes and patrons flock to the store for her kitchen demonstrations. She dreams of a better life and has a scrapbook full of things she'd like to have, including a vacation in Europe and the hunky fellow store employee (played by LL Cool J of “SWAT”). She is shy, dowdy and passive when it comes to trying to get what she wants.
All that changes when she finds out from a company doctor, Gupta (Ranjit Chowdhry), that she only has a few weeks to live. Making up for lost time, she quits her job, cashes in her retirement accounts and goes on one last holiday to a fancy resort, the Grandhotel Pupp (pronounced poop) in the Czech Republic (the same hotel was featured in the latest James Bond film, only there it was called the Hotel Splendide and was moved to Montenegro). Spending lavishly, she flies first class and checks into the Presidential Suite, attracting attention from other resort patrons, including Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton of “The Good Shepherd”), the owner of the department store chain she used to work for. Her keen interest in food also attracts the attention of the resort's top chef, Didier (Gérard Depardieu of “102 Dalmations”), which further arouses the curiosity of the resort's other patrons. Soon, Byrd is invited to join the high-rollers, including Kragen, who becomes increasingly jealous of the attention she is getting.
Meanwhile, back at the store, Matthews, who is interested in getting to know Byrd better, wonders where she has disappeared to and why. He manages to get the information out of Dr. Gupta and and Darius (Jascha Washington) a young friend of Byrd's. He decides to go to Europe, find Byrd and find out what is going on. Eventually, all the main characters of the movie come together for one big confrontation which brings everything to a conclusion. The movie is about making the most out of every day and not putting your dreams off.
Director Wayne Wang (“Smoke”) does a good job of balancing the various elements of the story to make a satisfying whole. Fine acting by the principals, especially Queen Latifah, helps make this an effective romantic comedy. Latifah's performance is remarkably restrained in the first part of the movie, but you just know the force of her personality is going to burst forth at some point in the movie. While she does become more forceful, she still remains restrained and under control throughout the film. Her performance is just right. Casting Gérard Depardieu as the chef is really perfect casting, since Depardieu really is a good cook (he's a restaurateur as well as an accomplished actor), and he obviously loves food. This role is tailor-made for him. While some of the characters don't remain very consistent in the film, Latifah holds everything together at the center. You've got to love a film like this, in which food plays a major role. They don't spare the butter. It is rich, flavorful and satisfying. This film rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics, theater tickets and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.