Among the slew of Christmas movies Netflix has recently churned out comes a messy, simply bad holiday romance. It blends in well enough, masquerading as a fun, funny, festive flick. But Holidate is none of these things — though, boy, does it try really, really hard to be. Its formulaic premise is essentially all the plot that the movie has: Two strangers decide to be each other’s “holidates” and end up falling in love.
The term “holidate” is exactly what it sounds like, which is a date to get single people through the holidays. And it happens to be exactly what protagonists Sloane (Emma Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey) both need. The film begins on Christmas, with Sloane enduring her family’s inordinate concern with her lack of a relationship and Jackson stuck with an improbably clingy date.
The two meet at the checkout counter of a department store, in the mall that is revisited three or four times throughout the film. They share a cynicism and a general distaste for the holiday season, especially the social and familial pressures they both face. With this, their “holidating” begins, and a series of various bland holiday events are cycled through. Even dates that are decidedly irrelevant, such as St. Patrick’s Day and Mother’s Day, get included as they go through the motions of a year-long theoretically platonic relationship.
The majority of said holidays that all involve Sloane’s family introduce a myriad of flimsy subplots. Sloane’s brother, York (Jake Manley), proposes to his girlfriend after three months, which leaves Sloane the only single person in her family. There are also repeat appearances from her bizarre — and unlikeable — Aunt Susan (Kristin Chenoweth), who brings a different guy for every occasion and supplies many of the cringeworthy moments in the film.
When you aren’t bored by the repetitive sequences and flat dialogue, you’ll most likely be mystified by the superficiality of it all. Any interactions between characters never stray far from trivial chitchat, much of which feels forced to be gratuitously raunchy. Sloane’s mother (Frances Fisher) badgers Sloane about what she wears, when she’ll marry and very little else. Being single seems to be the end of the world as far as any of Sloane’s family are concerned, which makes you wonder exactly what kind of message the film is trying to send.
Strangely enough, though, Holidate even goes so far as to attempt to be self-aware. At a New Year’s party, Sloane spends a substantial amount of time going off on how cockamamie “every romantic comedy in history is.” She rails about the predictable and disingenuous nature of the genre, and by that point, her thoughts likely mirror the audience’s. The attempt to be cynical and self-referential falls flat when nothing that happens in the movie actually accomplishes those goals. It ultimately ends up hurting the movie more than helping it.
As rare as it may be now, all the rom-com tropes are unironically present in Holidate — the meet-cute, the best friend, the ex and even the rush-to-the-airport kind of ending. The “holidate” idea may very well be the only original thing that ever happened to it, and it’s not even particularly creative. Case in point: When Jackson is sent to the hospital after a Fourth of July incident, he and Sloane get together and realize their mutual attraction.
The rest is run-of-the-mill rom-com history. It’s tough to find redeeming qualities, especially given that expectations are high for the modern rom-com. What you can’t deny, though, is that they tried. The effort — for the characters to be likable, the jokes to be funny and the film to be authentic — is palpable.
Yet that might just be Holidate’s downfall, as its biggest struggle is to keep it real. It claims to be cognizant of itself, but it never actually succeeds. It kind of talks about being realistic without ever actually being it. Yes, rom-coms are supposed to be a feel-good escape from reality, but they should also still be good. Holidate is just downright preposterous.
While Netflix has delighted audiences with unique twists on the classic tale like Set It Up and well-executed book-to-film adaptations like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Holidate is undoubtedly a step back straight into second-rate rom-com territory. Pretending like it doesn’t know any better, it drudges through the same old formula again and returns disastrous results. With all the Christmas-themed gems out there, Holidate is the one guilty pleasure you should be glad to pass over.