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Date the halls – ‘Holidate’

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Netflix reigns supreme over rom-coms.

People have been bemoaning the death of the romantic comedy for some time, and at the box office, the notion had the ring of truth to it – rom-coms weren’t the big business that they once were. And if people aren’t buying, the studios stop selling.

But while rom-coms might have waned in popularity, there are still lots of folks out there who love them. And, in typical fashion, Netflix detected a market inefficiency and started churning out romantic comedies. Now, these offerings vary in overall quality (though they all have that unmistakable Netflix sheen to them), but the sheer number that we’re seeing would seem to indicate that they are being watched and watched a lot.

The latest in the queue is “Holidate,” directed by John Whitesell from a script by Tiffany Paulsen. It’s a genial and low-stakes story, revolving around the sort of vaguely-absurd-on-its-face concept that marks a lot of the genre offerings from the streaming service. It’s about two people looking for someone to share the holidays with without, you know, any of the other stuff.

The movie is charming enough, even if it does feel a bit formulaic. Of course, this isn’t a movie you watch if you’re looking to be surprised in any manner whatsoever. And there’s a real comfort to familiarity – sometimes, it’s soothing to know what you’re getting.

Sloane (Emma Roberts, TV’s “American Horror Story”) is single and sick of the stigma that comes with it – especially when it comes to her family. Too many people in her life – her mother Elaine (Frances Fisher, TV’s “Watchmen”) and her sister Abby (Jessica Capshaw, TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) foremost among them – are on her about finding someone and settling down. All she wants is to get people to leave her alone about it.

That’s when her Aunt Susan (Kristen Chenowith, “The Witches”) introduces her to the notion of the “holidate.” Basically, it’s a person that you go out with on a holiday but that you aren’t actually dating; there’s no pressure and no expectations.

Sloane is initially skeptical, but when she meets golf pro Jackson (Luke Bracey, “Lucky Day”), she decides to take a shot. Jackson is similarly disillusioned with relationships, and so he agrees. Thus, the two become holidates – going out and having fun on assorted holidays without any of the hang-ups and issues associated with relationships.

You’ll be shocked to hear that this leads to problems.

As Sloane and Jackson spend more time together, they enjoy one another more and more. But will it be enough to push them to move beyond their holidays-only agreement? Or will they allow their own fundamental unhappiness prevent them from finding the connection that they truly seek?

So yeah. That’s “Holidate.” Admit it – when you saw/heard that title, you knew EXACTLY what the deal was going to be with this movie. Even the plot synopsis is predictable. And again, there’s something kind of nice about that. Something soothing – particularly when you’re talking about a rom-com that is ALSO a holiday movie. Having a fundamental understanding of how the entire thing is going to play out after watching for five minutes can be great. In the case of a movie like this one, that A-to-B-to-C execution of plot mechanics is a feature rather than a bug. That’s a good analogy, actually – basically, this whole project appears to have been algorithmically-generated in the usual Netflix manner.

None of this is to indicate that I had a bad time. Now granted, I’m a sucker for rom-coms generally – I love me a good meet-cute and all that business – so I’m an easy audience. Still, this one’s OK. Not great – too paint-by-numbers for that – but OK. And a lot of the time, OK is plenty good enough.

One of the fundamental truths of rom-coms is that your ceiling is set by your central pairing. The potential of the movie is established by what your two leads bring to the table. In Roberts and Bracey, we have a pretty good dynamic. It’s not the most sizzling chemistry you’ll ever see, but the two of them seem to click well enough. Roberts is fine, although I tend to like her more when she’s allowed to get weird. There’s some edge here, but it feels forced. Bracey is charming, though much of that can be attributed to his very Australian energy. However, the two of them do seem to be having fun, which makes a huge difference in a movie like this. Ultimately, the film mostly lives up to the solid B/B+ potential of its lead couple.

The supporting cast does a nice job of elevating the proceedings. Capshaw is a lot of fun as the older sister looking to get away from being a wife and mother whenever she can. Fisher gives a fairly typical rom-com mom performance, but she’s talented enough to make it work. And Chenowith is going for it in that way only she can; she’s a lot, as usual, but for the most part, it clicks. There are a couple of other solid supporting turns – Alex Moffat as Abby’s saint of a husband, Manish Dayal as the doctor that Sloane’s mom insists she date – but as with most films of this ilk, it boils down to the relationship in the middle – the ones who put the rom in the com, so to speak.

“Holidate” is precisely the sort of forgettable fare you expect to find on Netflix. While the streamer has gotten into the prestige game in recent years, it is offerings like this one that remain its bread and butter. This movie won’t change your life, but if you’re looking to kill a couple of hours, you could do worse.

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 02 November 2020 10:55

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