Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Rated TV-MA, 104 minutes
Directed by: John Whitesell
What makes HOLIDATE not fit for the Hallmark Channel, but a decent adult-skewing romcom for Netflix, is that it’s too raunchy and chock-full of swearwords. Yet there’s still plenty of overlap with films of that ilk sharing overarching, similarly contrived scenarios and thematic shenanigans. Director John Whitesell and screenwriter Tiffany Paulsen have their light-hearted take on a screwball-inspired romcom revolve around a woman and man both reluctant to form romances during the holiday season. It’s both cute and cloying in equal measure.
We first meet acerbic Chicagoan Sloane (Emma Roberts) smoking outside her mother’s house on Christmas, fuming that she’s forced to spend another holiday answering questions about why she doesn’t have a boyfriend. Her free-spirited Aunt Susan (Kristen Chenoweth), on the other hand, has it all figured out: get yourself a “holidate,” a.k.a. a commitment-free romance specifically to dull the blunt of prying holiday inquisitions. Across town, Aussie golf-pro Jackson (Luke Bracey) is feeling equally suffocated in his new relationship with a psycho fling, spending Christmas with her folks in a casual family gathering that goes south faster than Santa delivers billions of toys.
The two meet-cute in line returning gifts at the mall, bantering and bitching over their shared impersonal clothing exchanges. It’s not long until these two singles who don’t want to mingle bond over their common hatred of seasonal dating and Jackson latches on to the idea of being each other’s “holidate” as need be. He needs a companion for a New Year’s Eve party – one Sloane is eager to attend. She’s been hurt before by Luc (Julien Marlon Samani), her hot French boyfriend who cheated on her. Nevertheless, she’s not totally heartless. She trades dresses with a sobbing gal in the restroom to ensure the stranger will have a perfect proposal. There’s a sentimental romantic inside her yearning to break out.
Their first holidate goes so well, Jackson asks Sloane out for Valentine’s Day. She, at first, refuses to continue the charade. But, after an embarrassing run-in with her ex from which Jackson rescues her, she starts to look favorably on the scheme, meeting with him for all their respective holiday shindigs. And, of course, the pair’s plans for a platonic relationship are foiled when they begin to form romantic feelings towards each other.
At most of these holiday gatherings, none of the other partygoers pay any mind to Jackson and Sloane’s presence. No friends, nor family, converse with them. And when there is family around, like when Sloane’s brother York (Jake Manley) and married sister Abby (Jessica Capshaw) show up on St. Patrick’s Day, they’re all aware of her agreement with Jackson. It’s baffling how that wouldn’t lead to more questions, like it does with Sloane’s pushy mother Elaine (Frances Fisher). Still, for the all the filmmakers’ innovative rules of their world (like “leave no holidate behind”), they play into genre-mandated clichés. An expected amount of tomfoolery occurs: Jackson blows off his middle finger playing with fireworks; he and Sloane get high to calm her anxiety about driving; Sloane can’t make it to the toilet in time after a hellacious encounter with her ex.
It gets meta with Sloane’s scathing, though not subversive, commentary on romantic comedies and how audiences know the two leads will always wind up together despite their contrived odds. These sentiments are soon followed by pratfalls mimicking the DIRTY DANCING lift (as also referenced in CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE, which is also twice discussed in this film), but with a raunchcom spin where her top falls off and they crash to the ground in an epic fail. The third act predictably culminates in not just one woman making a grand gesture to her paramour, but two. The lone inventive story thread involving Jackson’s friend Neil (Andrew Bachelor), Abby and their drunken make-out session, while lacking a strong follow-through, posits that married characters are imperfect.
That said, there’s a comforting sense of safety in the film’s familiarity, and the two leads’ intense likeability and charisma are enough to make a date with this picture. However, the narrative’s inevitable resolution tends to hinder your complete affection – and ironically, makes it feel like something you’re settling for.
HOLIDATE begins streaming on Netflix on October 28.