There’s a certain bargain movie fans make over the holidays when booting up their streaming service of choice in search of a film that will sink them even further into the spirit of the season. For maximum coziness and heartwarming cheer, the Hallmark Channel provides a seemingly never-ending and perhaps endlessly rewatch-able roster of family friendly knick-knack features designed to tie your attitude around the season into a neat, unpretentious bow. On the other end of the festive spectrum, there are the horror-infused delights, which often inject a darker, but similarly guilty sort of pleasure into these seasonal offerings.
But it’s not often that a film comes along to defy both genre extremes. But, well, Netflix isn’t exactly trying to replicate all of its competitors wholesale, is it? It really does appear capable of serving up all types of content to all types of people, and it’s hard to say what other motivation could have pre-empted the development of Holidate, one of Netflix’s most bizarre products yet in either the rom-com or holiday genre. And that’s certainly not a bad thing.
To its credit, Holidate wastes no time establishing its quirky brand of R-rated cheekiness. A nearing-30 single woman named Sloane (Emma Roberts) utters the first word and first F-bomb of this 103 minute made-for-streaming movie, and it’s of course lambasting the idea of the holidays themselves. Sloane dreads being the only single adult left in her immediate family, and the holidays only exasperate this reminder, particularly as her family badgers her about bringing a date to Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
At her wit’s end, Sloane coincidentally comes across a strapping man of ambiguous age named Jackson (Luke Bracey), who is also on the market for a “Holidate,” where two people casually agree to be each other’s date only for the purpose of saving face on a holiday. No relationship, no strings attached, just a one-off chance to have someone around to keep incurable family members at bay. And maybe have some platonic company, too.
After their New Year celebration goes off without too many Dirty Dancing-related hitches, Sloane and Jackson agree to even more Holidates throughout the ensuing year, and the film’s basic formula kicks into gear from there. We join these heartthrobs for just about every major calendar event you can imagine, and it doesn’t take a veteran of the genre to figure out what will happen next. If you’ve seen Plus One, the superior “wedding date” version of this film, you more or less know what’s in store when it comes to the story and these glib characters.
But the real fun of Holidate is in how it rings in its predictable message. Roberts and Bracey manage to work their generous chemistry into a carousel of genuinely funny and memorable scenes getting to the heart of what makes the holidays so endearing in the first place: having someone with you to make it all the more special and dare I say it, fun. It helps that the film’s edgier rating allows the usual schmaltz and corny atmosphere to be secondary at best. The film still leans on this appeal, but the script’s boldness lends a much needed unpredictability to how each of these holidays will play out, and how these characters will authentically react to increasingly absurd hi-jinks. Sometimes, they even comment on the idea of rom-coms themselves, which isn’t exactly novel, but it does help this quirky rebel child of a film stand out just a little bit more amongst the usual fluff.
Holidate can be easily summed up as spiked eggnog. Not exactly everyone’s favorite beverage, and it’s certainly of a piece with the plain milk elements of the season. But that extra edge of dalliance gives it just enough flavor to make its viewers feel warm, distracted, and maybe a little buzzed. Aside from some forced subplots involving a strained marriage and a budding romance between Sloane’s aunt and a surprise character, Holidate is an often thrifty dose of pure, adulterated entertainment, even if the marketing would have you groan at its seemingly bored premise.