Queen's Holiday a treat

LOUIS B. HOBSON - Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:22 AM ET

Sometimes facing death is the only way for a person to learn how to live.

That's the simple message of Queen Latifah's surprisingly charming romantic comedy, Last Holiday.

Latifah plays Georgia Byrd, a shy, retiring sales clerk in a New Orleans department store.

Georgia is so insecure and self-effacing that she walks with her head down, wears clothes that conceal rather than accentuate her ample figure and talks in a whisper.

That's the Georgia Byrd the world sees.

At home, Georgia has a scrapbook she calls her "possibilities book" that reveals a very different woman.

That Georgia is a brash, smiling woman who is a master chef and whose secret crush on co-worker Sean Matthews (LL Cool J) results in dates, vacations and a wedding.

Georgia has learned to cook by watching cooking shows on TV and she tries out her culinary masterpieces on a neighbourhood teenager. And she cuts out faces of herself and Sean and pastes them on models from magazine ads.

Viewers know beneath Georgia's bland exterior lies the vivacious, voluptuous Queen Latifah, the leading lady of hip-hop.

There's never any doubt about who's playing Georgia. Latifah doesn't lose herself in the character. Georgia is just a means for her to share her infectious charm with an audience.

Latifah is one of her generation's few true movie stars, so director Wayne Wang has wisely tailored Last Holiday to her strengths.

On the day Georgia and Sean are about to confess their mutual feelings for one another, she hits her head and is rushed to a clinic for an MRI.

The doctor is aghast.

The tests show Georgia is suffering from one of those mysterious cinema conditions that will end her life in a few months, but show no physical deterioration.

Georgia decides she owes herself the vacation of a lifetime, so she cashes in all her savings and heads off to a spectacular resort near Prague.

She buys herself a whole new wardrobe and stuns the entire dining hall when she arrives for her first evening meal. Think Barbra Streisand's entrance to the Harmonia Gardens in Hello Dolly! and you'll get the picture.

At the hotel, Georgia meets a shady politician from her own state (Giancarlo Esposito), a congressional representative (Michael Nouri), a scheming businessperson (Timothy Hutton), his sexy mistress (Alicia Witt), and a hotel staff full of eccentric characters.

She also meets one of her idols, the internationally renowned chef Monsieur Didier (Gerard Depardieu).

Each of these people will learn something about themselves and about life from the wonderful Georgia Byrd.

She, in turn, will learn that true love and life itself are staring her in the face if she will just look inside herself for the clues.

Latifah owns the screen, making every line, every moment, every gesture count.

She seems to be having such a great time the audience just has to do the same.

It's infectious because LL Cool J, Hutton, Depardieu, Ranjit Chowdry as a befuddled doctor and Jane Adams as a snooping hotel worker are particularly hilarious.

Last Holiday may be pure fluff, but it's a welcome delight.

(This film is rated PG)


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