Near the beginning of “Holidate,” Sloane (played by Emma Roberts, with her usual caustic energy dialed down to about a four) goes on a rant about how “cockamamie” romantic comedies are. “There’s always some fake reason the stars can’t be together when you know they’ll be together from the poster,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Oh, Boo-hoo’ I’m so heartbroken even though you’re perfect for me, I’m taking a break from dating.’ No one is ever taking a break from dating!”
This is something that we see often in modern day romantic comedies (like “Isn’t It Romantic”) where the heroine admits that she knows these movies are totally absurd while also falling for all the absurdity that comes along with these movies. It’s almost like a preemptive stance the writers and directors are taking to say, “Hey, we get it. Meg Ryan driving across the country because she listened to a guy on the radio is totally akin to stalking and shouldn’t be legal, but you’re going to fall for it anyway, but just you know that we know that you know it’s crazy before, you know, we all fall for it.”
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As far as cockamamie goes, the premise of this gem is about as cockamamie as it gets. At an awful, awkward Christmas where she is the only one of her siblings who is still single, Sloane’s aunt Susan (the always amazing Kristen Chenoweth) tells her she needs a “holidate,” a guy who will be with her when she needs a date for seasonal obligations but won’t press her for commitment or romance the rest of the year.
On the opposite side of Chicago, Jackson (Aussie hunk Luke Bracey) is getting intimate in a new girlfriend’s childhood bedroom when he realizes both she and her family are far too clingy. When Jackson and Sloane have a chance encounter at the mall, they decide to be each other’s “holidates” for New Year’s Eve. When that goes well, they contract each other for all holidays going forward with a few rules: holidays only, no sex, and most important of all, no feelings.
This leads to a bunch of totally improbable (even for a rom-com) situations across a host of holidays, like a trip to the hospital on July 4th where they somehow are able to smoke a whole doobie in the ER without anyone interrupting them. There is also a scatological Halloween breakdown, an overly flirtatious Mother’s Day (since when is that a holiday you need a partner for?), and a boozy Cinco de Mayo. That last one is certainly not one of the holidays you need a date for — it’s just an excuse for white people to culturally appropriate Mexican nationalism so that they can get tequila drunk on a spring Thursday.
Of course, this all brings us back to Christmas, where the pair realize the mistakes they have been making and decide that they’ve been deeply in love for a lot longer than either would admit. Spoiler alert: They end up together in the end. Yes, rom coms are stupid, right? Even when you’re in the middle of one.
I will give Sloane, Jackson and the “Holidate” creative team credit for two things. At least the pair take an entire year of getting to know each other before falling in love, which is better than the few weeks or months we’re usually treated to. Secondly, at least they were both upfront about who they were from the outset, unlike the tired tropes trotted out in everything from “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” to “Never Been Kissed,” where deep, profound love is literally founded on a lie. And then, perhaps worse, the other member of the couple inevitably decides to overlook this lie because, well, their attraction is just too real. No, that is not forgivable. That is fraud. Ask Anna Delvey.
The thing about “Holidate”is that it is a two-fer. Not only is it an anti-rom-com rom-com, it’s also an anti-Christmas movie Christmas movie. Ever since the Hallmark channel has gotten millions of viewers hooked on their saccharine depictions of Christmas love — like between a single father and his child’s teacher in a small town named Sugar Cookie, Montana — Netflix and a handful of others have tried to get in on the action. After some success with Hallmark knock-offs like “A Christmas Prince” and “The Christmas Switch,” Netflix is upping its original Christmas movie output this year and trying to diversify its portfolio.
“Holidate” has Christmas as its bookends so it’s relatively free of the eggnog and baking contest trappings of the normal Christmas movie. It also has the toilet humor and sex jokes to distance itself from its G-rated cable cousins. But the two still eventually fall in love thanks to the spirit of the season (or in this case, seasons.) Just like the pair in the movie, this is a film trying to hold Christmas at arm’s length and also make sweet passionate love to it at the same time.
I guess the whole thing could be seen as a response to those who say both rom-coms and Christmas movies are hopelessly retrograde. The movie shows us people who hate rom-coms only to have them later be convinced by the cliches of romance. It basically shows lovers of the genre that those that hate it, “haven’t met the right rom-com yet.” But I don’t think “Holidate”is smart enough to actually make that case. It just wants to have its gingerbread house and eat it too.