Netflix has a catalog of romantic comedies that do very well at creating background noise while you complete other tasks. The streamer bets on its audience maintaining subscriptions, offering a vast array of films that range in quality. Their romantic comedies drift between lifetime melodrama and contemporary slapstick. Fortunately, this library has seen some surprising additions, including Alice Wu’s tender The Half of It, the heartbreaking All Together Now, and an endearing teen romance To All the Boys I Loved Before.
But more often than not, we get a Holidate.
We meet Sloane (Emma Roberts) at her family Christmas dinner, where each family member asks about her love life as she rolls her eyes. We also meet Jackson (Luke Bracey), who attends Christmas dinner at the home of his girlfriend’s family. His discomfort stems from looking at family photo albums and witnessing the horror of her pink, teddy bear-filled bedroom. When Sloane’s carefree Aunt Susan (Kristin Chenoweth) brings home a mall Santa for dinner, she learns that her aunt is using him as a Holidate, someone you invite home for the holidays and with no strings attached.
Sloane and Jackson meet randomly at a department store where she sees Santa from Christmas dinner. Horrified, she explains to Jackson that Santa was her Aunt’s Holidate. A what? he asks. She explains the concept, and by the end of the scene, they predictably decide to be each other’s Holidate for the entire year, which also includes St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and even Labor Day. These two young and attractive singles are oblivious that they could date each other but continue meeting on these holidays for some drinks and light flirtations. At one point, while celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at a bar, Sloane’s sister Abby (Jessica Capshaw) asks why she invites Jackson to these more exterior holidays. Sloane shrugs because no one knows how this idea became a film.
It does not take a set of binoculars to see where this all goes. The story by Tiffany Paulsen is so determined to keep these two apart that it fails to add any dimension to its leads. The audience is supposed to believe that these two supposedly kindred spirits do not talk outside of the holidays, yet we rarely see either of them alone. When they do come together, their conversations revolve around the notion that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, which becomes particularly glaring as Jackson explains he doesn’t like to date because women get too attached. These dated generalizations detract from their lives outside of the repetitive unresolved sexual tension because Paulsen, or any Netflix executive, is barely concerned with these characters’ lives.
It is a missed opportunity that this story doesn’t go any deeper than shallow waters. We should learn why we can root for either Sloane or Jackson other than overcoming their bitterness at being single. At least in Four Christmases (2008), Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn played a couple who had to be together for each of the four dysfunctional Christmas dinners. Holidate chooses to throw these strangers together, regardless of their respective lives and assumes all roads are leading to each other. What in their lives may have contributed to this inability to be together? If these obstacles exist, we may never know.
For the most part, Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey are cute, but the forced dialogue often detracts from their charms. Emma Roberts does what she can to brighten the material when most of what the script calls for is to sulk about her love life. Her comedic chops are displayed later in the film, but she deserves a better comedic vehicle. Unfortunately, Luke Bracey’s Australian Jackson is tired, relying on stereotypical tropes (Crocodile Dundee is referenced!) and cheap gags. That no one considers Bracey’s Jackson could be related to the Hemsworths is a missed opportunity. At times, he doesn’t match Roberts’ energy, but it’s not entirely clear if he’s more than just a handsome date.
Holidate currently sits as the #1 most-watched film on Netflix for the week. It’s not surprising, given that it doesn’t take a lot of energy to have it playing while folding laundry. Netflix also just announced that it’s increasing the cost of its subscriptions to generate more content. In essence, the audience for Netflix is crowdfunding these films. So perhaps it’s not enough for the streamer to produce films that will rise to the top of the viewing chart, only to be forgotten in a month and possibly not watch again. Quality is going to continue to shape this competitive landscape as streaming services hone in on what material they are offering to attract consumers. The holidays are a time when families come together and use these services for communal viewing. If you decide to rewatch Love Actually instead, you won’t be missing anything.