Queen Latifah's new film "Last Holiday" - and I say that because without her there would be no film, at least not one worth seeing - is the old story of the person who has only a short time to live and determines that she will live it to the fullest. It's so old that it's a remake of the 1950 film with Alec Guinness - but don't let that stop you. This film, like that one, is a lovely and too-rare comedy that lets you just sit back and enjoy it.
The film begins in pre-Katrina New Orleans, where Queen Latifah is Georgia Byrd, who works as a food and kitchen demonstrator at an old department store. She's lonely, she's repressed, she has a secret crush on a coworker named Sean, played by LL Cool J, but both of them are too shy to let it out. And then one day she learns that she's terminally ill and has only a few weeks to live. She mourns her lost life, but decides to give herself a last treat. She cashes in all her pension funds, and takes herself off to Karlovy Vary, the Czech spa town that I know as the site of a great film festival, and checks herself into the Grand Hotel Pupp for one last fling.
The Grand Hotel Pupp has a world-renowned chef, Chef Didier - Gerard Depardieu - and the two of them become fast friends. Meanwhile, the sleazy owner of her store is also there with his mistress and a senator and a congressman who are in his pocket - shades of someone we've been reading about, perhaps. Anyway, the rest of the film is the story of how Georgia manages to make sure everything comes out all right in the end.
As I say, this is a film that wouldn't exist without Queen Latifah, who has one of those magical screen presences that are all too rare these days. We love to look at her, we love to listen to her speak, we love to watch her whatever it is she's doing in the film. We can't take our eyes off her. The film was directed by the expert Wayne Wang, who knows his way around a romantic comedy - he directed "Maid in Manhattan" and showed us there that Jennifer Lopez knows how to act without being obnoxious about it.
And yes, you'll know from the start just how the film will end, but you know that with any good comedy - it's part of what makes comedy work. With dramas it's often important that we NOT know the end, but with comedy the pleasure comes in seeing how it will all play out. So you can sit back in "Last Holiday" and let yourself just enjoy what happens. You won't be disappointed.