Holidate (2020)

“It’s not meaningless.”

Raucous, raunchy, and better than expected, Holidate is a rom-com that addresses the clichés of its formula and lives by them with a more mature twist. This wouldn’t pass for the standard PG-13 had it been released in theaters, and given its Netflix release really earns its TV-MA rating. This movie was filthier than I expected, but it’s never over the top either, and it’s matched by a duo who you actually hope end up with a happily ever after. It’s more different than the poster or trailer lead on. I still can’t believe I liked it.

Given the title and the decorative tree on the poster, you’d think that Holidate was yet another crummy Christmas movie, and one strangely released right before Halloween rather than closer to Thanksgiving or the first day of Winter. But this isn’t strictly a yuletide comedy, and instead it charts its course over the length of a full year. From the jump we’re given clumsy intros to Sloane (Emma Roberts) and the Ausi Jackson (Luke Bracey). She’s long been reeling from a breakup and is the last of the siblings to remain single; he bounces around from one relationship to the next, incapable of finding connection. They aren’t good at being alone by themselves, so maybe they can be good at being alone together.

Their meet-cute is at a mall in a clothing store’s infinite return line, and it’s as lively as the mannequins sporting the items they’re bringing back. The moment is phony and poorly written, but the leads are charming enough to save the scene, and they give the movie new life after the first act finally comes to an end. Jackson says he doesn’t find Sloane attractive yet his eyes and hands linger. Her attempts at subtlety are just as forward. Yet they remain subdued longer than you’d expect, with the two embracing the rather unestablished rules of their strict ‘holidate’ relationship. They share each other’s company on days when it’s more comfortable to not be alone. St. Patrick’s leads to drunkenness, the 4th to firework issues, and the film finally finds its way back to the combo package of Christmas and New Years.

Holidate understands and even states that audiences know where and how this movie will finish. That lacks creativity but shows great self-awareness, and it’s boosted by a journey that’s far more unexpected than I ever would’ve guessed. Having said that, the movie starts slow and quite frankly is very bad to start. And then actors get better as they go along and are helped out when director John Whitesell finally finds a place of tonal harmony, balancing vulgarity with romance. Last year’s great romantic comedy Plus One definitely executed the a similar plot with more perfection, but this one is still an old-fashioned, dirty film full of feverish love mixed and cutely crude humor. Holidate is yet the latest breed of its streaming kind, and it makes sense that the cheesy romance literally begins and crescendos in a mall. This one’s like a food court entrée: too salty, too sweet, ultimately filling. I always find it so easy to fall for a mediocre movie when the leads seem to so believably fall for each other. You’ll be mildly surprised.

“Human beings aren’t meant to be alone on the holidays.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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