If the doctor tells me that I have three weeks to live, I am praying it is football season. Because before I meet my Maker, I want to paint my face and take my son to an Oakland Raiders football game. Yeah, we had a terrible season, but I’m a fan. If you know of your own eminent demise, you make decisions based on passion, rather than obligation.
While there may be many conscientious people who would want to spend quiet time with friends and family as the clock ticked down to the exit gate of life, I fear I would want to burn the candle at both ends and let the wax drip.
That is a bit of the thrust of Last Holiday, a thoroughly enjoyable comedy about life, death, and high-cholesterol cooking.
Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) is an unassuming, churchgoing woman who sells cookware in a department store. She watches her weight, despite her intense love of cooking. Georgia eats those microwavable diet entrees and serves her prepared feasts to the kid next door. She never misses choir practice and has a secret crush on a timid coworker (LL Cool J).
After hitting her head at work, she is given a report from a doctor that she only has three weeks to live. Georgia cashes in her retirement fund and some money her mom left her and decides to fulfill a few lifelong dreams.
Queen Latifah says that she was drawn to the role because this “shy, meek person goes from thinking she has three weeks left to live and decides…to explore life and enjoy some of the things that she’s been holding herself back from for so long.”
One of those dreams had to do with visiting a five-star European resort and eating meals prepared by an eccentric chef (Gerard Depardieu). He adores her because she eats all of his prepared meals with vigorous enthusiasm. While there, she unknowingly crosses paths with the arrogant and unethical CEO (Timothy Hutton) of her department-store chain, and some politicians who are being wooed into unethical business dealings.
As you might expect, she is the most stunning, daring, straight-talking woman with a hunger for life (and great food) that any of them have met. After all, she arrived at the resort by helicopter (the taxi line was too long and she didn’t feel like waiting) and is staying in the presidential suite (that was the only room still available).
The rich and pretentious characters in the film are drawn to this devout and humble cookware clerk because she wants to live out her final days with no regrets. She ends up enjoying high-adrenaline activities such as base-jumping, playing roulette, snowboarding, and enjoying fatty foods.
“I think that the film obviously shows you that there are many types of blessings,” observed rapper/actor LL Cool J. “Obviously, health is a major kind of blessing. Living life, abundance in life is a major blessing and obviously the type of abundance that she was after was not only material abundance, but abundance of joy. You know, of happiness, of freedom.”
More and more films are dealing with faith as an element of life, without making the movie an evangelistic endeavor. For example, Georgia is portrayed as churchgoing, Bible-reading, choir-singing member of a Baptist church in New Orleans. Despite the fact that Last Holiday is not a religious film, the inclusion of Georgia’s spiritual state of mind is unmistakable.
“I had to keep it on the course of my Christian background because Georgia is a Christian and I had to make sure that certain things were done right along the way,” Queen Latifah said.
One highly charged scene takes place during a church service when Georgia starts asking God why all this is happening to her. “Honestly, that was the real thing goin’ on in that church that day,” reports Latifah. “I mean, that was one of the most amazing days. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a day like that on the set where the energy–even for those who weren’t Christians necessarily, or church-goers, or hadn’t been around any kind of religious things, felt that energy. I mean it was there. The choir’s a real choir. They’re not just some group of people they threw together to sing these songs… Yeah, they’re rockin’ that church, boy.”
You get the feeling that the cast and crew enjoyed making this feel-good film. In its own comedic way, it does provoke the question of how you would spend your final few weeks on the planet–which I suppose is a good way of discovering what you really are passionate about in life.
Whether the film takes us to a church service or on a European ski slope or watching succulent meals being prepared in a chef’s kitchen, Last Holiday touches on some of the great joys of life: love, sports, faith, and fabulous food.
– Steve Beard is the creator of Thunderstruck.org–a website devoted to faith and pop culture.