I’m embarrassed by how long it took me to pick up on the glaringly obvious play on words in Single All the Way. In my defense, it’s really not the best title for a schmaltzy movie about a home-for-the-holidays man searching high and low for true love that turns out to have been sitting beside him the entire time. I don’t have alternate title suggestions but, ignoring that, the movie is quite charming, though it could perhaps use a pinch or two more salt to balance out the sweet. (It’s charming, of course, assuming you’re not someone who kvetches about Christmas rom-coms being hackneyed or riddled with tropes. Because, really?!? Do you also complain that the latest Spiderman movie has him shooting webs from his wrists and things going boom? The tropes are part of the genre.)
Peter (Michael Urie) is distractedly overseeing a Los Angeles photoshoot of half-naked Santas with shaving cream beards. He has clearly seen more than his share of bare-chested Insta-Gay models flexing for the cameras, and now he just wants to get the work done so he can meet up with his Genetically Blessed cardiologist boyfriend Tim (Steve Lund)—who he’s been dating for a record three months and twenty-two days—at the Christmas party of the year.
As is often the case with hot doctors, Tim will be running late, so Peter pressures his best friend/roommate Nick (Philomen Chambers), who is wiped out from working so many handyman TaskRabbit gigs, into accompanying him to the party. Did TaskRabbit underwrite this movie? Is Peter afraid to be alone? Or does he just really want Nick to come? I think Nick is mostly there to demonstrate from the start how close these two are. Peter already knows Nick will try to get out of going by saying he has nothing to wear! They show up with drinks for each other at the same time! They clink their glasses to celebrate eight years of going to this Christmas party, but nine years of being besties! It’s also a chance for a romantic couple to point out that they are also best friends. This happens more than once in the movie, and it’s not my favorite thing. Yes, your romantic partner can be your best friend, but it’s a very different thing than your platonic best friend, which isn’t really acknowledged by any of the couples. Different relationships fulfill different needs.
While Peter’s day job pays the bills, his real love is plants, which he first discovered because of a broken heart. Is Peter’s entire personality built around his romantic status? You betcha! He tells Tim that his dream is to move back home to small-town New Hampshire, live near his family, and open a little plant store (which I’m sure will cover all the bills). Peter also really wants Tim to come home with him for Christmas to show his family that he’s in a relationship, which is an always healthy and never worrying reason. He tells him, “I’m this problem they all have to solve. They can’t understand why I haven’t been in a relationship that hasn’t lasted more than a few months.” This kind of familial enthusiasm is so preferable to homophobia, but it’s a bit much, right? And yes, I know this is the rom-com way. Being single is a problem that has to be solved, while at the same time long-time marriage is often a millstone that couples carry around their necks. It’s a real paradox for the ages. (The millstone part isn’t necessarily the case in this movie.) But, oopsie doodles, Tim is not going to solve any of Peter’s problems because it turns out that he’s very married to a woman. There is just so much to unpack there, but neither the movie nor I have time for that.
Single once again, but having promised his family a “big surprise,” Peter is anxious about showing up beau-less, so he tries to con Nick into coming home with him and pretending that their friendship has finally blossomed into love. Nick has planned to spend Christmas alone with his rescue dog Emmett—about whom he wrote a bestselling picture book, because Nick is the whole damn package. Peter goes on about how Nick hasn’t ever spent a Christmas alone because he’s always had boyfriends, so he doesn’t know if he’ll like it and it will probably be bad. This is really the only inkling we get of Nick’s past romantic life (or any life), why he’s single, or if he’s had longer-term relationships than Peter. Would it really have been so hard to have worked in that information and given him a bit more depth? We also learn that Nick’s mother is dead. I assume she died around Christmas-time because that is the only time parents die in Christmas movies. It’s as if the rest of the year is protected by a life-giving magic spell.
Long story short: Nick goes to New Hampshire with Peter, but he’s really not willing to pretend they’re together.
Once there, Peter’s mother Carole (Kathy Najimy)—who insists on being called Christmas Carole during the holidays, and whose house is overrun with homemade inspiring and/or humorous signs—tells Peter that she’s arranged for him to go on a blind date with her spin class instructor James (Luke MacFarlane). Peter is horrified and also skeptical that there would be an attractive gay man in this small New Hampshire town. I mean, I can’t speak to gay men specifically, but small New Hampshire towns tend to be close to ski areas and ski areas attract outdoorsy ski bum guys and outdoorsy ski bum guys are often easy on the eyes. This is not rocket science, Peter. I do have a lot of questions about the number of Christmas movies that involve mothers setting up their gay sons on dates, but, again, there is no time to unpack it all.
The trainer is hot. The date is tepid to lukewarm. But what matters most is that we now have the third vertex to our love triangle! Ain’t love grand? While Peter is sipping hot cocoa with James, Nick is reading aloud to Peter’s nephews, going on wine runs, and generally being emotionally and physically supportive to the whole damn family. And with that we are officially off to the races, because his warmth, candor, and general presence make Peter’s father (Barry Bostwick), his sister Lisa (Jennifer Robertson), and his nieces Daniela (Madison Brydges) and Sofia (Alexandra Beaton) lobby hard for Peter to ditch the trainer in favor of finally taking the plunge with Nick. I just love when love blossoms so organically. Don’t you?
Obviously, everyone except Nick and Peter can see the end of this movie coming like a stampeding herd of bison on the prairie, but the joy is in the journey. Aside from Tim the Terrible Twit, there are no monsters in this movie, which is fine. It’s much more about people figuring out who they are and what path they want their life to take. Peter, rightfully, expresses fear about crossing the bridge of no return with Nick. (Sex. I mean sex.) And both of them slowly acknowledge the deeper feelings they’ve been harboring for each other. Even the non-relationship relationship between Peter and James ends with emotional understanding and growth. I guess you could argue it’s a pretty mature take on relationships and love. I mean, for a Christmas rom-com. It’s not like there aren’t shenanigans to try and get them to admit their feelings or get them together. And there is the moment when Peter first admits his feelings for Nick, adding “and then I wouldn’t have to be single at Christmas.” Ew. Good night! If I were Nick I would run for the fucking hills…or at least the therapist’s office. (And yes, I do know that the line is partially a transition into a dance routine to Britney Spears’ “My Only Wish (This Year),” but still.) Part of me really feels like Peter needs a solid year of not dating anyone and just doing things by himself. That’s not going to happen.
I read some criticism that Michael Urie’s performance was not subtle enough for this movie, but come on! Michael Urie is wonderful, and he’s been around long enough that you should know what you’re getting. He’s not going to play understated and quiet in a rom-com. Nope. To express that he’s confronting some non-platonic feelings for Nick, he’s going to do things like a big old lean around the door frame lookie-loo, followed by a shake of his head as he watches Nick, who is wearing only a towel around his waist, walk away.
I thought he was playing it pretty close to the hip during this movie, so there’s also that. This appears to be Philemon Chambers first big credit, so I don’t have the same history with his acting, but the man has poise and presence and a FACE. Holy angels of the DNA does he have a face. His depiction of a quieter, more reserved, calming Nick is a nice balance to Urie’s more frantic, anxious, on edge Peter. The man’s smoldering looks—which we really only see once in this movie—should only be deployed under controlled circumstances because holy moly they could cause a serious blaze. (That sentence is full-on cheesy; I stand by it.)
What irked me about Nick’s character is that he’s almost always giving and never receiving. His role is almost entirely to assuage Peter’s fears, to bolster Peter’s family, and to help Peter realize his dreams. Even the end, which—don’t get me wrong—is incredibly sweet, has Nick giving so, so much to Peter to make him happy. And Peter, what? Doesn’t even realize what Nick wants until the very last minute? It just didn’t all add up for me. And, yes, Nick has his book and TaskRabbiting, but even those get tied up in Peter’s family and their approval. Yes, there is definitely joy in giving to the people you love. And sure, life is long and relationships can sway back and forth in terms of who needs more support, but since we don’t have the benefit of a long lens or more developed characters, it all felt somewhat concerning. And yes, you can argue that Nick gets a connection to Peter’s family out of the whole deal, but you know that’s kind of a false equivalent. If there were a sequel (which I would watch), I would certainly want to see the world from Nick’s perspective, with Peter being the supportive, background partner. Make it happen Netflix!
While I’m talking about things that bothered me, let me add that I felt like Jennifer Coolidge as Peter’s Aunt Sandy never really gets to spread her wings, which is a crime against humanity. A CRIME! We all know what she is capable of bringing to even the most minor role, and I felt like something was lacking here. Aunt Sandy helms a Christmas pageant starring children that is called Jesus H. Christ, which includes lines delivered by Coolidge like: “Unless you look deeper, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about Maaaaary.” It’s amusing to be sure, but it feels somewhat clipped and sanitized. Like maybe they were concerned about keeping things non-threatening for viewers who still might not be entirely sure about romantic gay leads? (Sigh. I wish that weren’t the case, because none of it should be about straight people’s comfort, but let’s also be realistic.) I feel similarly about Jennifer Robertson, who lights up pretty much anything she’s in with her sarcasm, facial expressions, and wit. Don’t get me wrong, she’s funny here, just not as funny as I hoped. I think both their characters are areas where the movie could have added some more interest, some sharper edges, and some saltier bits to pump up the overall flavor.
And I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t point out the part where Peter’s nieces try to get away with making their pageant costumes sexy. When he first sees them Peter makes a “hoe, hoe, hoe” joke. Uh, no, no, no, thank you. Then his young nephews are quickly hustled out of the room. I guess so their eyes won’t be burned from seeing their cousins in midriff shirts and heavy eye-makeup? Did we time travel to a different century? To the movie’s credit, Christmas Carole does say that sexy is great when you’re older. I, of course, would argue that experimenting with sexiness is also fine when you’re a teenager, though probably not for a Christmas pageant. I don’t have much experience with those, but my general sense—given the whole immaculate conception—is they don’t go in for much sexiness. But then Christmas Carole also suggests to Lisa that she “should’ve had boys.” Right. Yes. Because white American cisgender boys are so notoriously unproblematic.
If I’ve learned anything from reviewing movies, it’s that rom-coms are often among the most contentious. (I’d hypothesize it’s why the most solid ones end up with an IMDb rating in the six point something range.) And I get it. Our emotions, our memories, and our fantasies live inside these movies. Which is also why I am always, always here to remind you—and myself—to never call them guilty pleasures. It’s perfectly okay to just enjoy the daylights out of them. But I’m digressing. My long-awaited point about this YuleTube movie is that I found it a mostly enjoyable watch, which maybe could have used a skosh more sharpness overall, and a better balance of power in its romance. But, Jesus H. Christ, would I still watch the heck out of a sequel.