The screenplay by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman was loosely adapted from the 1950 UK film of the same name by J. B. Priestley. The writers were wanting John Candy for the star-role, but he died and Latifah’s agent suggested a new version starring her. It gained mixed reviews, but Latifah's performance was universally praised for charm and humor.
Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah), an employee in the cookware department at Kragen's Department Store in New Orleans, is a shy, unassuming woman who longs to cook professionally, and who records her dreams of a better life in a journal labeled "Possibilities." It is the Christmas holiday season. While flirting with a co-worker Sean Williams (LL Cool J), she bumps her head on a cabinet door and is taken to the store's health center for a CAT scan. There she is told by company physician Dr. Gupta (Ranjit Chowdhry) she has several brain tumors resulting from a rare neurological disorder called Lampington's Disease. Since her HMO plan will not cover the exorbitant cost of an operation, Georgia resigns herself to the fact she has only a few weeks to live, quits her job, liquidates her assets, and sets off on a dream vacation at the deluxe Grandhotel Pupp in the spa city of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic.
Free of inhibitions and determined to live life to the fullest, Georgia checks into the Presidential Suite, buys a designer wardrobe in expensive boutiques, makes extensive use of the hotel's spa facilities, attempts snowboarding and BASE jumping off of a dam, enjoys succulent meals prepared by world-renowned Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu), and wins a small fortune playing roulette in the casino. She impresses the hotel's staff, with the exception of cantankerous guest services manager Miss Gunther (Susan Kellermann), with her naive manner and forthright kindness, and mingles with some of the other guests, including Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton), a self-help guru and coincidentally the owner of the store where she works; his assistant/mistress Ms. Burns (Alicia Witt); pandering Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito) from her home state of Louisiana; and prominent Congressman Stewart (Michael Nouri). Kragen is skeptical about Georgia's origins and suspects her of trying to sabotage his business, but the rest are charmed by her free spirit.
When Kragen bribes Miss Gunther to dig up information about Georgia's background, she finds a letter Georgia has written providing instructions for the disposal of her remains after her death. Miss Gunther is moved by the letter and realizes Georgia's self-confidence and sunny optimism have touched everyone who has met her since her arrival. She confesses to Georgia she found the letter and urges her to return home and spend her last days with those she loves. Georgia takes Miss Gunther's advice and heads for the airport, only to discover an avalanche has blocked the road. Unbeknownst to her, Sean - having learned of her diagnosis and ready to acknowledge his feelings for her - is in a taxi on the other side of the snowdrift, trying to reach her at the hotel.
Georgia returns to the hotel, and Sean starts across the snow on foot. At a New Year's Eve party that evening, Kragen exposes Georgia as a saleswoman in one of his stores. Georgia tells them that Kragen is right and reveals that she's going to die. Kragen's colleagues, disgusted by Kragen's insensitivity, embrace her and abandon him. Dejected and embarrassed, Kragen goes up to an upper floor of the hotel and sits on the ledge contemplating suicide. Georgia tries to persuade him to come down, suggesting if he were nicer and less driven and greedy, he would be a happier person.
Sean arrives at the hotel and joins Georgia and Kragen on the ledge. In the lobby, Miss Gunther finds a fax from Dr. Gupta, in which he tells Georgia she was misdiagnosed due to X-rays generated by a broken, outdated CAT scanner. Miss Gunther rushes up to the ledge to announce the good news. Georgia and Sean return to New Orleans where they later get married and open a restaurant, which is visited by Chef Didier and Georgia's long-time inspiration Emeril Lagasse. An epilogue sequence shows that Ms. Burns, Ms. Gunther, Dr. Gupta, and Matthew Kragen have all made better lives for themselves and are now happy with Georgia changing her Book of Possibilities into the Book of Realities.Queen Latifah as Georgia Byrd
LL Cool J as Sean Williams
Timothy Hutton as Matthew Kragen
Gérard Depardieu as Chef Didier
Alicia Witt as Ms. Burns
Giancarlo Esposito as Senator Dillings
Susan Kellermann as Ms. Gunther
Ranjit Chowdhry as Dr. Gupta
Michael Nouri as Congressman Stewart
Jascha Washington as Darius
Emeril Lagasse as Himself
In the original 1950 film, the leading character of George Bird was played by Alec Guinness. Screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman updated the story for John Candy, with Carl Reiner directing, but the project was shelved after the actor's death. Years later, Queen Latifah's agent read their script and suggested they revise it for her.
The gourmet cuisine seen throughout the film was prepared by chefs from the Food Network, and recipes for many of the dishes, including Lobster Salad in Potato Leek Nests, Duck Hash on Toasted Baguette, Spiced Lamb Shanks with Blood Orange Relish, Roasted Quail with Brioche and Chorizo Stuffing, Risotto Barolo with Roasted Vegetables, Bananas Foster, and Poulet Tchoupitoulas, were available on the network's website. In one scene, Georgia watches footage from Emeril Live to help her prepare a chicken. As part of the film's promotion, Queen Latifah appeared as a guest on Lagasse's show.
The film opened on 2,514 screens in the US, earning $12,806,188 and ranking #2 in its opening weekend. It eventually grossed $38,399,961 in the US and $4,943,287 in foreign markets for a worldwide box office total of $43,343,248.
Queen Latifah was nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture.
The film received mixed reviews from critics, earning a 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 115 reviews. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said the film "takes advantage of the great good nature and warmth of Queen Latifah, and uses it to transform a creaky old formula into a comedy that is just plain lovable. To describe the plot is to miss the point, because this plot could have been made into countless movies not as funny and charming as this one ... All depends on the Queen, who has been known to go over the top on occasion, but in this film finds all the right notes and dances to them delightfully. It is good to attend to important cinema like Syriana and Munich, but on occasion we must be open to movies that have more modest ambitions: They only want to amuse us, warm us, and make us feel good. Last Holiday plays like a hug."
Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle stated, "Latifah's latest vehicle inexorably marches toward an ending you can see coming from the first reel ... This harmless bit of fluff lacks the element of surprise but is not without random charming moments supplied by its incandescent star."
Jessica Reaves of the Chicago Tribune awarded the film three out of four stars and described Queen Latifah as "soft, bold and very funny, infusing this otherwise predictable movie with a contagious charm." She added, "While this is not exactly a profound film, and the message is hardly new, it's testament to this movie's joyous energy that it doesn't matter in the least. We may know exactly where we're going, but the journey is so much fun, all but the most peevish audience members will find it impossible to complain."
Janet K. Keeler of the St. Petersburg Times graded the film B- and commented, "Strong performances by Latifah, LL Cool J and Depardieu, who is strangely but perfectly cast, save Last Holiday from irrelevance. Latifah is more than the funny girl with attitude we've seen in Bringing Down the House, Taxi and Beauty Shop. She's got the goods to play the leading lady, and a sexy one at that. Latifah's performance here isn't as good as her Oscar-nominated turn in Chicago, but it shows off more range and a subtler touch than subsequent movies."