Late October is certainly premature for Christmas festivities (unless you are a department store), but Netflix’s first holiday movie of 2020, Holidate, is evergreen.
Written by Tiffany Paulsen and directed by John Whitesell, Holidate stars Emma Roberts and
off-brand Chris Hemsworth Luke Bracey as Sloane and Jackson, two perpetual singles who agree to be each other’s “holidates”: platonic plus ones for regular occasions that one would rather not spend alone or answering awkward questions from family and friends. They vow not to let things get romantic or sexual. What could possibly go wrong?
“Human beings aren’t meant to be alone on holidays,” Jackson says urgently, with big Love Actually “at Christmas you tell the truth” energy. The holidate concept is but the latest installment of our favorite rom-com trope: The fake relationship. We love a good bit!
Like all Netflix rom-coms, Holidate has a quirky and promising premise, but what sets it apart from some more recent debacles is that it actually pulls this off. Roberts and Bracey have a winsome chemistry. There’s also a strong and eccentric supporting cast and a nicely paced rotation of holidays less mined by American rom-coms.
As is the case with romantic comedies, everyone in Sloane’s life does nothing but lament her constant singledom. But in Holidate, this is just absurd enough to feel a little tongue-in-cheek and make us laugh more than cry. Within the first two-and-a-half minutes of the movie, we meet Sloane’s mother, sister, brother, aunt, and niece, all of whom pass judgment on her relationship status and then walk off with nothing else to say (her niece is six and very in touch with her emotional needs).
A few miles north, Jackson spends a nightmare Christmas, a.k.a., third date, with a girl he just started seeing, whose parents absorb him into their matching-sweater traditions like a ritual yuletide phagocytosis. He’ll later discuss girl troubles with a misogynistic buddy (Andrew Bachelor, a.k.a., King Bach), but they stop short of cringey “Women are so clingy” cliches and instead acknowledge that Jackson himself is the problem. Unfortunately, the clingy bit does come up later, but it’s when Jackson has Sloane to spar with, and she immediately shuts him down.
The film also starts at Christmas, quickly launching into New Years and Valentine’s Day and moving to less visited spring holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and Mother’s Day. There’s even an Earth Day shoutout, but, sadly, no celebrations. The movie’s self-awareness is truly endearing, letting the audience feel like we’re sharing an inside joke with the characters rather than being forced to believe for even a second that they won’t end up together. On their inaugural New Year’s holidate, Sloane roasts romantic comedies for their predictability, calling them “cockamamie.”
“It’s the only word I know that describes every romantic comedy in history,” she says over a glass of Champagne. “There’s always some fake reason the stars can’t be together when you know they’re gonna be together from the poster! It’s like oh, ‘Boo-hoo I’m so heartbroken. Even though you’re perfect from me, I’m taking a break from dating.’ No one is ever taking a break from dating!”
We can deconstruct every single sentence with how the film will inevitably contradict Sloane’s words, yet it’s more amusing to let her enjoy her denial with an “Aw, sweetie” smile and curl further into our blankets as we watch their love unfold. Paulsen’s script has the kind of specificity that makes movies and TV shows land, like Jackson digging into his identity as a professional golfer (another cheeky bit, since we never see any evidence of it), and anecdotes like Sloane’s childhood crush on Steve Urkel. It also helps that they say “fuck” a lot, a luxury in which more rom-coms should indulge.
Roberts and Bracey’s chemistry carries the film, even selling the highly questionable subplot in which she is somehow not interested in dating Manish Dayal (her loss!). The comparison between Bracey and Chris Hemsworth might seem surface-level — they’re both tall, fit, blonde, and Australian — but with a similar voice and twinkle in his eye, Bracey taps into the Best Chris’s comedic charm in the best way possible. Roberts thrives with the R-rated script and some excellent physical comedy, particularly in the Halloween holidate.
Frances Fisher is cast superbly as Sloane’s marriage-obsessed mother, regularly playing the straight grownup across from a deranged Kristen Chenoweth as her sister (clearly having the most fun). Beyond that, Sloane’s large family (even the efficient if sparing use of SNL‘s Beck Bennett) just clutters an otherwise straightforward film. Holidate knows what it brings to the party, but we don’t need the extra fixings. We’re here for the cockamamie, and we love it.
Holidate is now streaming on Netflix.