Unless it is also your solemnly sworn duty to watch as many Netflix romantic comedies as possible, I think you can safely skip Holidate. Alternatively, you could find someone with the skills to edit together the handful of charming moments, thus saving yourself from slogging through the entire hour and forty-four minutes just for the satisfaction of seeing two pretty people fight, make up, and make out.
When we first meet Sloane (Emma Roberts), we know she is unhappy because she hates Christmas. No one in this kind of movie hates Christmas unless they are evil, selfish, greedy, or sad. Sloane is sad. She smokes a secret cigarette outside her mother’s house and then puts it out on a light-up Santa’s head (GASP!). And she wears a sweatshirt to Christmas dinner. So you know she’s really, really sad. And a true rebel.
Not even one minute and thirty seconds into the movie, Sloane’s mother (Frances Fisher) chides her for not wearing a dress and her sister (Jessica Capshaw) insists she has to get back out there because it’s been six months since her boyfriend cheated on and dumped her. Because what we need are more things insisting that young women need to find a man to be complete. Everyone is disappointed that she hasn’t brought a date to dinner. Even her older single aunt (Kristen Chenowith) has brought a date! He’s a Santa she picked up at the mall so she could have a date (and sex, presumably) for Christmas. She tells Sloane, “You’d be surprised at the quality of men you can meet at the mall.” And that it’s not a big deal because he’s her “holidate” (which she actually goes on to explain as if it’s not blazingly clear what this would mean) and there’s no commitment. Hold on tight to this information, because it is the key to the rest of the movie. Sloane is sulky, insists on sitting at the kids’ table, talks to her young niece about her cheating ex-boyfriend, and is deeply offended by the flannel pajamas her sister gives her.
Jackson (Luke Bracey) also hates Christmas because he is handsome, but Emotionally Unavailable, lives far from home (he’s Australian), and apparently doesn’t have any friends nice enough to invite him over for holidays. Instead, he’s agreed to go home with Carly (Aimee Carrero), a woman he’s only dated a few times. Her family has no boundaries, which is represented in part by the fact that they are too into Christmas. Carly’s parents wear matching sweaters, welcome him to the family, and overshare. Her mother shows him a picture of Carly when she started her first period and makes it clear that she’s fine if Carly and Jackson sleep together in Carly’s (very pink and frilly) childhood bedroom. Carly is also overbearing and super horny (of course) and thinks they’re in a deep relationship.
Jackson is freaked out by all this, but obviously not freaked out enough to refuse a blow job from her. Why is it almost always the women that are overbearing and clingy? Why aren’t there a slew of men (who are not also serial killers) who bring women home after two dates and assume they’re on the path to marriage? Those are rhetorical questions, obviously, because it’s sexism and the fucking patriarchy. Then there is an absolutely terrible scene where Carly gives Jackson three pairs of khakis as a gift (because he golfs) and he gets her nothing because she had said they weren’t exchanging gifts. She is appalled and says, in front of her parents, “Oh, so you know me well enough to cum in my mouth, but not to get me a present?!?” He then—because why not drag this scene out as long as possible?—offers her money, and she accuses him of treating her like a prostitute and then demands more money. He tells her that “chicks go mental on the holidays” and then leaves. I pray to the Gods and Goddesses of Streaming Services that this is not a harbinger of future scenes. (Spoiler: They will not hear my prayers.)
Anyhoodle, these two charming kiddos are brought together by their mutual dislike of their Christmas presents, which they then stand in line to return at the mall. Please remember that both Sloane and Jackson are very, very pretty, but not, like, unapproachably pretty, so we know they are good people who will prevail in the end. (I have many, many questions about whether people actually still go to the mall enmasse in the United States, but, at the risk of this review dragging on as long as the movie, I will put them aside. Except to say that there are at least three separate scenes at the mall. Three!) Both Sloane and Jackson are just appalled that they can’t get a refund on the gifts that no one had to give them, and they could have easily donated to someone who could actually use them. Obviously, they also strongly dislike each other at first. He is all about health. She smokes and eats mall pretzels. He’s a golf pro. She doesn’t believe that’s a real job. She makes fun of the way he says khakis and calls him Crocodile Dundee. He tells her he doesn’t find her attractive. They each offer up a huge number of personal details about themselves and their Christmases. Really, this part is fine and altogether less terrible than the beginning. The two have decent chemistry and their opposites attract schtick isn’t too bad.
So, while (STILL!) at the mall, they run into Kristen Chenowith’s “holidate,” which sparks the idea of them being each other’s dates for every holiday. (Well, certainly every Christian or culturally appropriated holiday, at least.) Is this really a thing? Is there a huge need to have a date for St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas? I honestly don’t know the answer. Except for Mother’s Day, because that’s just weird. But it matters not because they go ahead and do it. There are rules—I’m beginning to think this is now a requirement for all Netflix-backed rom-coms—about how to make it work. They don’t have sex….and I forgot the other ones. You can largely guess the broad strokes of what happens from there. (Again, and as always, the predictability is not a drawback for me.)
One of the huge weaknesses of the movie, for me at least, is its insistence on yammering on about how awful it is for people to be alone, and by alone they mean not in a romantic relationship. Sloane’s mother is the worst offender, telling Sloane that she doesn’t want her to die alone and, in one seriously egregious case of disgusting ableism and just disgusting disgustingness, telling her that she should lock down a man now in case she gets cancer later because “BALD WOMEN DON’T GET A LOT OF DATES.” (Caps mine because it made me want to scream.) But Jackson also says shit about how humans aren’t meant to be alone on the holidays—as if the only kind of intimacy that humans need is the romantic kind. And her sister and her brother’s fiance are unrelenting in their attempts to set her up with basically any willing man. How touching.
The movie also just leans way too hard on the stereotypes of what cisgender heterosexual men want versus what cisgender heterosexual women want in romantic relationships. At some point I thought even Phyllis Schlafly might have considered it overkill. I mean, sure, at some point they kind of maybe suggest that those things aren’t always true, but for a movie that felt the need to have expository dialogue about the meaning of a “holidate,” I think it’s too little too late.
And then there are the many and sundry scenarios that are meant to be humorous but just serve to make the movie feel eeeeeennnnndddlless. I felt this way about all the parts centering on how trapped and tired Sloane’s older sister felt in her marriage and motherhood. Don’t get me wrong, I complain about my children a lot, and I’m not at all ashamed about it, but the whole trope of the middle-aged mom goes wild has most certainly earned a permanent retirement. In the same category is Jackson’s Black best friend who appears to have no life beyond hanging around Jackson and giving him dating advice. He is also, I believe, the only character who doesn’t end up paired up with someone at the end. (Apologies for the mild spoiler.) Then there’s the time they get the uptight woman high, the time someone’s finger gets blown off, the time Sloane has to wear an uncomfortable, but sexy, costume because Jackson chose it (ew, Jackson), all the times Jackson references having casual sex while Sloane gets zero action, and, finally, the scene about diarrhea.
Actually, that last one isn’t entirely fair because the scene about diarrhea turns into one of the more touching and deep parts of the entire movie. It’s a moment that shows real human emotions, connections, and empathy—even if it does involve laxative jokes and Sloane being trapped in a sexy pirate costume. No, I’m not being sarcastic. But, as I said before, many of the scenes with Sloane and Jackson have charm potential. See also most of the scenes with Kristen Chenowith because it’s Kristen Chenowith. If it were anyone else I think I would be annoyed by the way her character skews toward the stereotype of an over-sexed, single, more mature woman, but it’s Kristen Chenowith, so it only seems natural that she shows up for Easter brunch in a playboy bunny costume or says things about her dates like “He made me the most perfect clay clitoris. Like a butterfly taking flight.”
Are these few close-to-amusing elements reason enough to watch the movie? I’ll leave that for you to decide, but I will remind you that the holiday season is but young and, while the Gods and Goddesses of Streaming Services did not answer my prayers this time, they will most certainly provide us with a plentiful bounty of seasonal romantic movies and series festooned with pretty people, twinkly lights, and schmaltzy story-lines. Don’t lose hope, my friends.