Last Holiday (2006)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V-1 ;L- 2; S/N-2 . Running time: 1 hour 52 min.

I will say to God, Do not condemn me;
let me know why you contend against me.
Job 10:2

Last Holiday

Before she can really begin to live Queen Latifah’s Georgia Byrd learns that she is going to die, “in two weeks, or three at the most.” Georgia is a lowly employee riding back and forth to work on a picturesque New Orlean’s streetcar, but her life is anything but picturesque. She demonstrates appliances and grills, handing out sample foods to customers at Kragen’s Department Store, where her idiotic boss often badgers her. She is too shy to let fellow salesclerk Sean Matthews (LL Cool J) know that she cares for him, and he is equally shy in showing that he returns the feeling. At home she cooks while she watches Chef Emiril lead his audience through another mouth-watering recipe. However, she feeds the finished meals to the young boy next door, while she eats a packaged diet meal. Instead of a diary, she keeps a Book of Possibilities, into which she has pasted Sean’s picture a number of times. She also pastes in it travel brochures describing The Grand Hotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary, a resort city in the mountains of the Czech Republic where her culinary idol Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu) attracts gourmet diners from all over the world. Her ultimate dream is to open her own gourmet restaurant.

One day Georgia injures her head, and when the doctor insists on a brain scan, he discovers a tumor that will terminate her life. Turned down by the HMO for an experimental surgical procedure that might not work, even though it costs over a third of a million dollars, Georgia tells no one of her plight. Cashing in her 401-K and other assets, she decides to tell off her boss—the scene is a delightful fantasy that I suspect a lot of viewers must envy—and blow everything on a vacation at that five star hotel she has so often dreamed of visiting. On the plane over we see the second incident of her new sense of empowerment when she refuses to bow to the obnoxious lout in the seat ahead of her who resents her putting her knees against the back of his seat that otherwise would be in her lap, as well as to the officious flight attendant who assumes that she is the problem.

Georgia decides to take a helicopter from the Prague airport rather than waste a day of her life traveling by land into the mountains, and so she arrives ahead of schedule before her reserved room is ready. The clerk tells her that nothing else is available, except the Presidential Suite, but that’s $3000 a night. Scarcely pausing a beat, Georgia takes it. A number of onlookers are suitably impressed. There follows a visit to the local dress boutique where she tries on a roomful of fancy dresses before settling on her new wardrobe.

Entering the dining room in her exquisite new gown, Georgia makes a good impression on the other diners as she is being escorted to a prominent table (as the occupant of the Presidential Suite). Unable to choose from the succulent courses of meat, fish, and fowl, which the waiter tells her are never repeated by Chef Didier, she decides to order them all. Across the room, a party of Americans are seated: Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton), wealthy self-help book guru and owner of a chain of department stores, including the one in which Georgia worked; plus his guests, U.S. Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito) from Louisiana and a Congressman, whose help to get a bill favoring his business merger he is buying; and by his side (and in his bed) his mistress.

Kragen has sent word via the waiter that he would like Chef Didier to come out and stop by his table, but the Chef has become so intrigued by the lady who has the good taste and the appropriate appetite to order all his menu items that he goes out to meet her. The two become so engrossed in culinary talk that he ignores the mighty Kragen, whom he really does not like because of the magnate’s picky food tastes based on calories rather than taste. By now the Congressmen are intrigued by Georgia, so they begin a series of encounters with her. Georgia recognizes the Senator—he was supposed to speak at her church last Sunday, but backed out because of “a schedule conflict”— so she is cool to him at first. Without any pretension or lying, Georgia impresses the party so much that they assume that she is a person of great wealth and power, so they gradually slip out of Kragen’s sphere of influence, much to his chagrin. Georgia has a positive affect on virtually the entire hotel staff as well, defending a masseuse when the mistress unjustly criticizes her, and making the other employees, even a Prussian-like valet, appreciate her warmth.

What will happen when her true background is discovered? And back home, when she does not return to work, what will Sean do? Will he discover her Book of Possibilities and thus where she has gone? And when she becomes homesick for New Orleans and decides to return, will she pass by Sean without knowing it, like in one of those star-crossed lovers films of days of old? (If you can’t answer these questions, then you shouldn’t be going to the movies!) Directed by Wayne Wang (who also directed the heavier The Joy Luck Club and one of my favorite films Smoke), Queen Latifah expertly breathes life and charm into this soufflé of a film, eschewing the more brassy, in-your-face notes of her character in Beauty Shop. As a woman of faith who talks frequently with a God whom she believes is close at hand, her Georgia is a delight to watch, and still further proof that, to mention another enjoyable film, real women have curves.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) Although a light comedy, how did you feel as Georgia wept in her kitchen over the news of her impending death? Have you also asked the question, when something bad happens, “Why me?” What did you think of the humorous way in which the church choir picks up her cry and transforms it into an anthem of praise?

2) How does her death sentence become the means of freeing her? Have you known others in similar circumstances who found a sense of freedom in knowing they had a limited time to live? Why do you think we postpone our dreams until something like this happens to us?

3) How does Georgia’s compassion turn her into a person of grace? Whom, and how, does she help during the course of the film? Even some of the less savory people?

4) Despite what she assumes is a death sentence, she retains her faith. How could this be more of a comfort for her than the film shows? Do you think it must have been, else would she have moved beyond the “Why me?” stage? How do you think you might handle news of your own death? How does the movie’s ending, though it is what we want, in a way subvert its “message”?

Last Holiday Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V-1 ;L- 2; S/N-2 . Running time: 1 hour 52 min.

I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me.

Job 10:2

Before she can really begin to live Queen Latifah’s Georgia Byrd learns that she is going to die, “in two weeks, or three at the most.” Georgia is a lowly employee riding back and forth to work on a picturesque New Orlean’s streetcar, but her life is anything but picturesque. She demonstrates appliances and grills, handing out sample foods to customers at Kragen’s Department Store, where her idiotic boss often badgers her. She is too shy to let fellow salesclerk Sean Matthews (LL Cool J) know that she cares for him, and he is equally shy in showing that he returns the feeling. At home she cooks while she watches Chef Emiril lead his audience through another mouth-watering recipe. However, she feeds the finished meals to the young boy next door, while she eats a packaged diet meal. Instead of a diary, she keeps a Book of Possibilities, into which she has pasted Sean’s picture a number of times. She also pastes in it travel brochures describing The Grand Hotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary, a resort city in the mountains of the Czech Republic where her culinary idol Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu) attracts gourmet diners from all over the world. Her ultimate dream is to open her own gourmet restaurant.

One day Georgia injures her head, and when the doctor insists on a brain scan, he discovers a tumor that will terminate her life. Turned down by the HMO for an experimental surgical procedure that might not work, even though it costs over a third of a million dollars, Georgia tells no one of her plight. Cashing in her 401-K and other assets, she decides to tell off her boss—the scene is a delightful fantasy that I suspect a lot of viewers must envy—and blow everything on a vacation at that five star hotel she has so often dreamed of visiting. On the plane over we see the second incident of her new sense of empowerment when she refuses to bow to the obnoxious lout in the seat ahead of her who resents her putting her knees against the back of his seat that otherwise would be in her lap, as well as to the officious flight attendant who assumes that she is the problem.

Georgia decides to take a helicopter from the Prague airport rather than waste a day of her life traveling by land into the mountains, and so she arrives ahead of schedule before her reserved room is ready. The clerk tells her that nothing else is available, except the Presidential Suite, but that’s $3000 a night. Scarcely pausing a beat, Georgia takes it. A number of onlookers are suitably impressed. There follows a visit to the local dress boutique where she tries on a roomful of fancy dresses before settling on her new wardrobe.

Entering the dining room in her exquisite new gown, Georgia makes a good impression on the other diners as she is being escorted to a prominent table (as the occupant of the Presidential Suite). Unable to choose from the succulent courses of meat, fish, and fowl, which the waiter tells her are never repeated by Chef Didier, she decides to order them all. Across the room, a party of Americans are seated: Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton), wealthy self-help book guru and owner of a chain of department stores, including the one in which Georgia worked; plus his guests, U.S. Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito) from Louisiana and a Congressman, whose help to get a bill favoring his business merger he is buying; and by his side (and in his bed) his mistress.

Kragen has sent word via the waiter that he would like Chef Didier to come out and stop by his table, but the Chef has become so intrigued by the lady who has the good taste and the appropriate appetite to order all his menu items that he goes out to meet her. The two become so engrossed in culinary talk that he ignores the mighty Kragen, whom he really does not like because of the magnate’s picky food tastes based on calories rather than taste. By now the Congressmen are intrigued by Georgia, so they begin a series of encounters with her. Georgia recognizes the Senator—he was supposed to speak at her church last Sunday, but backed out because of “a schedule conflict”— so she is cool to him at first. Without any pretension or lying, Georgia impresses the party so much that they assume that she is a person of great wealth and power, so they gradually slip out of Kragen’s sphere of influence, much to his chagrin. Georgia has a positive affect on virtually the entire hotel staff as well, defending a masseuse when the mistress unjustly criticizes her, and making the other employees, even a Prussian-like valet, appreciate her warmth.

What will happen when her true background is discovered? And back home, when she does not return to work, what will Sean do? Will he discover her Book of Possibilities and thus where she has gone? And when she becomes homesick for New Orleans and decides to return, will she pass by Sean without knowing it, like in one of those star-crossed lovers films of days of old? (If you can’t answer these questions, then you shouldn’t be going to the movies!) Directed by Wayne Wang (who also directed the heavier The Joy Luck Club and one of my favorite films Smoke), Queen Latifah expertly breathes life and charm into this soufflé of a film, eschewing the more brassy, in-your-face notes of her character in Beauty Shop. As a woman of faith who talks frequently with a God whom she believes is close at hand, her Georgia is a delight to watch, and still further proof that, to mention another enjoyable film, real women have curves.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) Although a light comedy, how did you feel as Georgia wept in her kitchen over the news of her impending death? Have you also asked the question, when something bad happens, “Why me?” What did you think of the humorous way in which the church choir picks up her cry and transforms it into an anthem of praise?

2) How does her death sentence become the means of freeing her? Have you known others in similar circumstances who found a sense of freedom in knowing they had a limited time to live? Why do you think we postpone our dreams until something like this happens to us?

3) How does Georgia’s compassion turn her into a person of grace? Whom, and how, does she help during the course of the film? Even some of the less savory people?

4) Despite what she assumes is a death sentence, she retains her faith. How could this be more of a comfort for her than the film shows? Do you think it must have been, else would she have moved beyond the “Why me?” stage? How do you think you might handle news of your own death? How does the movie’s ending, though it is what we want, in a way subvert its “message”?