“Enough is Enough Right Now!”: Capitalist Woe in The Last Holiday (2006)

It was estimated last year that, on average, Canadians spent around $1,593 on Christmas. From what I understand of the PwC Canadian Holiday Report*, that includes gifts, decorations, and other holiday activities. Suffice to say, we spend a lot during December, which might seem strange given our choice of holiday films. There is a large group of Christmas adjacent movies which criticize capitalism and the structures or institutions involved with capital. Specifically, they reject the monetary systems which organize and distribute money. But they are still pro-money, as characters often blow their life’s savings to buy things for themselves and others. The Last Holiday is a modern example of this tradition, as it’s equally critical and fun, and although it’s not specifically about Christmas/New Years, it takes place around those events. The antagonists in this film aren’t necessarily evil, but they are members of an evil and heartless institution which puts more importance on money than people. The Last Holiday thus makes a distinction between greed and wealth, possession and worth.

Like A Christmas Carol, The Last Holiday suggests that money isn’t the most important thing and that our economic system undermines our moral system. Queen Latifah’s character, Georgia, infuriates the various antagonists because she doesn’t care about money, she doesn’t treat it with respect, and she stops giving it value. Her actions suggest that we give money it’s perceived power, which means that its value depends on us. The second Georgia dismisses her job and salary, her boss panics and tries to offer her more money. This trend continues throughout the film, as Georgia keeps spending her life’s savings, only to make money off it, by coincidence. It’s as though capitalism itself keeps trying to bribe Georgia, to bring her back into the system and to stop her from converting anyone.

“I didn’t come here to make an impression…I just came here to blow every last cent I had”

Although the film is a lighthearted comedy, its main character inspires a moral revolution and deals with some deeply troubling things about capitalism and the role of the worker. It remains a popular film because people like to imagine what they would do if they could quit their job and live as Georgia does. It is fun to think that way, even though Georgia does so because she only has three weeks to live. That limited lifespan changes Georgia’s perspective on everything, especially her role in an institution which doesn’t care about her or any other worker.

When money is the loudest voice in a room, no sustainable change can occur. The Last Holiday plays with this concept as Georgia spends all her money, but isn’t greedy like the other characters, as she doesn’t want to possess money. While others are only interested in making money from money or from labour, Georgia is interested in the things which money buys. The experiences, the fun opportunities, and the people it allows her to meet. The value is thus placed on the item and labour, not the funds themselves. If we read this from a vaguely Marxist perspective, she is more interested in the worker and what they do rather than the system which organizes them.

Georgia is a hard-working single woman who has spent most of her life in the same job, working in the cookware section at a department store. She takes pride in her job, and enjoys fostering a personal connection with her customers, which displeases her boss. He is sort of a wannabe-American psycho who bases everyone’s value on how much money they are worth. If they aren’t working or making money, they don’t deserve respect. This is something Georgia comes across multiples times in the film, all from middle aged white men, who immediately look down or are suspicious of her. The film doesn’t go into the racist undertones of these men, but it does put Georgia in clear opposition of them.

During a conversation with her crush Sean, played by LL Cool J, Georgia smacks her head into a cabinet and passes out. Because of company protocol (or not wanting to get sued), her boss allows her to get a CAT scan which reveals that Georgia has a deadly disease and only has about three weeks to live. It’s a terrible revelation, but its especially terrible because of the American Health Care system.

Georgia is given the scan by a small practice clinic doctor who is terrified and decides to take her to a more professional doctor for the diagnosis. This ‘official’ doctor seems sympathetic, sort of, but he does make a weird comment about how “sneaky” the disease is, as though he is impressed by its work ethic. Georgia is understandably horrified by the news, and she is immediately ready to find a cure or receive treatment. She assumes that the agency to which she has bought into her whole life will help her as she helped it. She has always paid her taxes, contributed to the economy, paid health insurance. Shouldn’t that mean that she will be protected if anything were to happen? Not in America, as the doctor immediately tells her she should speak with Catherine Lens, her HMO administrator. As he says this, the clinic doctor turns away and faces the wall, as though he is ashamed by this system and knows that it will not help Georgia in any way.

“You Wait and You Wait for Something big to happen, and then you find out you’re going to die”

We then cut to the meeting between Georgia and her administrator, which is arguably the harshest sequence in the film. It is later revealed that Georgia never had the disease, and in fact, the only reason they thought she did was because of a cheap CAT scan machine. In other words, they misdiagnosed her because the company cut corners and refused to pay for a good quality machine. Knowing this, the Doctor’s diagnosis is purely hypothetical, which can’t be said of the insurance scene. The HMO administrator sequence remains harrowing because it shows in exact detail what would happen if Georgia had the disease. While the Doctor speaks hypothetically, the HMO administrator couldn’t be more serious. She bluntly informs Georgia that her treatment will not be covered, even though the disease will kill her. Now I should say, I am Canadian, so the American Health Care system is already insane to me, and I am extremely critical of it. That said, I think this scene is horrifying but very real. This woman, and the system she speaks on behalf of, knows that Georgia is going to die, but neither cares. The insurance company is just that, a company. Morals don’t play into it. This is fundamentally broken, and the film wants us to recognize that. The administrator isn’t an exaggerated character invented by the film. Nor is this kind of conversation, it’s something ordinary people go through every day. The scene might be ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t realistic.

When the administrator notes, “the cost of median cranial debulking surgery is around $340,000. That’s without anesthesia. You’ll want that”, it comes off as a joke. Of course, she will want anesthesia, they are going to be messing around in her brain. But what might seem like a funny line is meant to be taken seriously as she isn’t trying to be funny. The situation is so ridiculous that it might feel like a comedy, but it isn’t. At the end of the day, the company is more than willing for Georgia die because she doesn’t have enough money.

I chose this scene because it is a turning point for Georgia. Before her meeting with the administrator, Georgia believed that she could get through this, that capitalism would reward her for her work, and that it had some morality in it. She is wrong, and realizing that, she changes her perspective on capitalism and money. This leads to my favourite scene in the film, where she quits her job and finally tells off her boss. Georgia initially goes to her boss to inform him about her disease, but she quickly realizes that he isn’t worth sharing the information with. Although she clearly has something important to tell him, he doesn’t care, and he doesn’t see her. After he interrupts her to answer his cell phone, once again, Georgia lifts her shoe and destroys the phone. His statement, “That’s a 400-dollar phone” causes her to smash it more, as though she is attacking the very business represented by that phone. She goes on to destroy the bosses’ audiobook, which is coincidently written by the film’s later antagonist, Matthew Kragen. It is interesting that Georgia must work through layers of capitalism, as her first antagonist is this middle management boss, then its Kragen, and finally it’s the system to which both of these figures belong. That said, during Georgia conversation with her boss, he tells her that “This is not about you, ok? It’s not about me. It’s about business. It’s about the company”. This phrasing sets up a bizarre parasitic relationship where the business, an unliving industry, feeds off Georgia and her boss and is more important than either of them. They feed it, and in return, it gives just enough to survive, but not enough to live.

“What World Was I living in?”

In case any of The Last Holiday’s criticism comes off as a ‘subtle jab’, the film shows Georgia using her savings to do all the things she was afraid to do. She has spent her entire life saving money and going on diets, just living frugally, and trying to get to a point where she could justify the lifestyle she wanted to have. In doing so, Georgia never let herself enjoy life, as she became too preoccupied with becoming a person rather than being a person.

In the scene where Georgia withdraws her money, she sort of laughs when the teller casually states that she must know what she is doing and have a good investment lined up. The only investment she has is herself and having fun, and she doesn’t have a plan other than to “blow it”. This spontaneous attitude is frightening and confusing to capitalist figures like her boss and then Kragen, both of whom assume that she is part of some money making or blackmail plot. They don’t understand how Georgia could just detach herself from money and stop allowing it to control her life. The huge demonstrations of wealth and luxury in the later part of the film illustrate that she is in control of money, not the other way round. As such, Georgia is more valuable than the money, and her happiness and joy has more worth, which is the exact opposite of what she encountered right after her diagnosis. The film is thus about changing your position and attitude to these systems and recognizing that they are dependent on you, the worker.

Georgia consistently pays attention to the workers instead of the industry they belong to. She defends Brigitta when Ms. Bruns tries to bully her at the spa. She calls out the greedy airline for stuffing people together to make more money. She makes friends with the hotel staff and is more interested in spending time with them than the other guests. In each of these cases, Georgia highlights the pieces which create the institution, the people who are often taken advantage of by capitalism. Take Didier, the chef at the fancy hotel Georgia stays at. He hates when customers demand substitutions, as it’s a massive sign of disrespect and a stupid power play. It is like saying, I love your cooking, except for all the ingredients you use. Georgia is a huge fan of Chef Didier, and they become friends because she doesn’t isn’t interested in substitutions. She wants to eat the food that he is most proud of, and she doesn’t challenge his work or try to assert her importance as a customer. Her behaviour at the hotel illustrates that she has wealth and value, but not because she has money. She is important because she listens to others, she enjoys the work that they do, and she sees the beauty around her. She doesn’t need to possess any of that, she is ok to just marvel and be there. It’s like the personal touch she added to her work at the department store, it makes all the difference. Perhaps it is not as profitable, but it makes a valuable connection.

“Don’t that ceiling ever just make you want to cry?”

The filmmaking itself mirrors this message that the individual and their passion or work is more important than the industry. It focuses on luxury and has several montage sequences where we get to see fancy spa treatments, makeovers, and other fun activities. It is noteworthy that in each of these scenes, Georgia is sort of out of place, as she is not as graceful or demanding as the other customers, but she is always positive and enjoying the experience. When the film lingers on these moments, and shows us how beautiful everything is, it highlights the individual craftsmen and art. We see the workers and we understand the beauty of these products. Or, like Georgia, we see how special they are, versus the other guests at the hotel who don’t acknowledge these things and just sort of expect them. It also means that the viewer is positioned in a similar way as Georgia, as we also enjoy the experiences and the visual splendor of the film. That splendor is the very reason why people re-watch the film every holiday season.

When Georgia discovers that she isn’t actually going to die, she doesn’t return to this worker role. She opens her own restaurant and starts a new life, as do the other characters. They each learn that money is not as important as people or experiences. In fact, the main antagonist, Kragen, retreats to a temple where he devotes his life to a non-monetary world. The film’s final assertion is that the holidays are an opportunity to re-examine ourselves, our lives, and the possibilities we dream about. It also warns us of these institutions and suggests that its easier to trust individuals than businesses. Perhaps that is a bit naïve, as not everyone can leave their job and family for an adventure or a moralistic endeavor. But, seeing as this is a jolly time of year, I am willing to let that pass and just enjoy this fantastic and critical film.