When playing chess, if you have lost your queen, you can change a pawn that moves all the way across the board back into that queen. This allegory obviously brings us to singer/actress Queen Latifah. In her own respect, she has made the change from early ’90s hip hop artist to “B”-movie royalty, even garnering an Oscar nomination for “Chicago.” Fresh on the heels of “Beauty Shop,” Latifah’s latest outing “Last Holiday” is just one more notch in her blossoming film career. Interestingly, this film was written by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, the same team behind “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “The Grinch.” Even more surprising, the film’s director, Wayne Wang, also directed “The Joy Luck Club” and “Maid in Manhattan.” Let’s not forget fellow hip-hop-artist-turned-actor LL Cool J, who rounds out the “Last Holiday” team of veteran artists. With such accomplished moviemakers behind the film and such great writers behind her words, it’s no wonder that Queen Latifah and “Last Holiday” succeed in producing a worthwhile film in the dreariness of first-quarter films.
“Last Holiday” is based on the query, if you had two weeks to live, what would you do? Enter insecure, reverent and lonely Georgia Byrd (Latifah). Georgia leads a mundane life working at the local department store, but finds brief moments of happiness when she shows off her culinary skills for her neighbors and dreams about her love interest and co-worker Sean (LL Cool J). The success of Queen Latifah seems to lie in her honest personality and realistic mentality. Audiences seem to appreciate the confidence Latifah expresses, even though she isn’t some sexual icon or screen legend. An accident at work sends Georgia to the emergency room where a CAT scan reveals numerous brain tumors. The doctors tell Georgia that she has only three weeks to live. Georgia suddenly begins her transformation from quiet, mousey homemaker to wealthy, confident socialite. She plans a ski trip to the Czech Republic hotel of her dreams. At the hotel, the story finally picks up.
Keeping her sickness a secret, everyone at the hotel assumes that she has some sort of upper-class standing. During her stay, Georgia makes an impression on everyone with her positive attitude and her newfound love for life. She gives confidence to scared employees, melts the cold German desk attendant’s heart and becomes friends with Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu), the hotel’s world-famous cook. Through Didier, Georgia realizes some of the more philosophical aspects of the film. One scene in particular finds Didier and Georgia discussing the importance of turnips. Didier remarks that turnips are better the older they are, and, that like so many things in life, “It’s not how you start out, but how you end up.” To this, Georgia replies, “I don’t like thinking about the future, it’s too depressing.” After impressing some of the other socialites staying at the hotel, millionaire Mathew Kragen (Timothy Hutton) grows annoyed with the new upstart. Meanwhile, back in the United States, Sean finds out from the doctor that the CAT scan machine was malfunctioning and that Georgia is not really sick at all. Sean goes charging off to the airport to rush to the Czech Republic hotel to tell Georgia the good news. The climax comes when Kragen exposes Georgia as the non-millionaire she is, but much to his chagrin, nobody seems to mind. Not to be a story without its happy ending, Sean suddenly arrives and tells Georgia that she is not sick and that he loves her, but has been too shy to tell her.
The beauty of “Last Holiday” is in its all-too-simple, familiar Cinderella story. Nothing in the film is offensive or lacking in humor. “Last Holiday” is just your typical happy, popcorn-throwaway movie. Obviously, this film has a limited audience and its competition from all the Oscar contenders ensures a short life span. Either way, “Last Holiday” holds its own. Latifah happily reminds audiences that the most valuable piece on a chessboard is the queen.