Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) lives, works, and worships in New Orleans (pre-Katrina). Her job at a large department store in the cookware department gives her a bird’s eye view to the floor below where Sean Matthews (LL Cool J) sells things like barbeque units and backyard furniture. She’s sweet on him but doesn’t tell a soul. At home she watches cooking shows, eats like a bird, and keeps a scrap book of all the places she wants to visit to try the local cuisine. Her young neighbor sneaks a peak though, and sees a cut and paste photo that Georgia has made with her and Sean. Georgia sings in the church choir and the pastor announces that Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito) is coming to visit but he does not show up.
Georgia is very kind and gentle, but doesn’t much like her boss. He is only interested in profits because the store may have to close. There is an accidental altercation at work and Georgia is injured. Dr. Gupta (Ranjit Chowdhry) gives Georgiaa CT scan and is shocked at the results. Even a second opinion comes to the same conclusion: she has a brain disease and only a short time to live. Georgia is stunned because she feels ok (especially after a fat-flush). She quits her job, liquidates all her assets, and decides to use her last weeks doing what she has always dreamed of: without telling anyone tshe goes to Europe to meet a famous chef (Gerard Depardieu) and taste the best cuisine he has to offer.
Georgia is a mystery to the group of Americans who watch her enter the resort dining room like a queen; they are mad to know who she is. As she finds out in this wonderful comedy, the group is made up of the no-show Louisiana senator, and the owner of the department store chain she worked for, Mr. Kregen, who is accompanied by his young lady-friend who is not his wife.
Last Holiday is a post-holiday treat directed by Wayne Wang (Smoke; Because of Winn-Dixie) with just the right touch. Queen Latifah is elegant and funny; she and Gerard Depardieu play off of one another very well, even though they only share a few brief scenes. Because Georgia has the best suite in the Prague resort, she has a maid to attend her who seems to have been trained by the Gestapo; their interaction provides much of the humor. Also the unmasking of the department store owner, Mr. Kragen, played with classy sleaze by Timothy Hutton, is great fun. His lady friend learns a valuable life lesson from Georgia as well.
Oh, did I mention about LL Cool J? He and Queen Latifah looked very well together!
At the screening I sat between Sister Mary Lea whom I brought as a guest and a film reviewer from one of the New York papers. I felt like I was in an airplane because their continual laughter kept shaking the seats.
I wondered what people in or from New Orleans might think of the film, and by the end I was convinced that they would like it very much. It is a film about integrity, public service, inner elegance, and rebuilding one’s life.
It’s seems like an original story (though actually based on a film written by J.B. Priestly of the same title starring Alec Guinness as George Bird) because it hasn’t been neutralized by slapstick, clichés, and stereotypes of African Americans.
Go and see Last Holiday. Get this Byrd’s eye view on how to spend what may be her last days with beauty and dignity – and lots of laughs. Refreshing. As we left the theater, everyone was smiling. You couldn’t help it.
Be sure to stay for the credits; they’re a treat~
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