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Holiday rom-com ‘Single All the Way’ offers feel-good formula

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My feelings about Netflix’s cornering of the romantic comedy market are fairly well-documented at this point. The algorithmically-driven quantity-over-quality vibe to their productions aren’t the most encouraging, even to those who have predetermined affinities for rom-coms.

Look, Netflix throws a lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks. It’s part of their model and pretty obviously a successful one, even if it means that a lot of not-great works get made. However, by definition this also means that sometimes, something does stick, resulting in a genuinely good movie.

“Single All the Way,” unfortunate title aside, sticks.

The rom-com – directed by Michael Mayer from a script by Chad Hodge – tells the tale of a man living in California returning to his hometown in New Hampshire for the holiday, capturing both the spirit of the season and the charm of romance in a way that is engaging and beautifully inclusive. It’s a story of what it means to search for love and how that search can become entangled with every other aspect of our lives, for better and worse.

It is adorable and funny, the kind of film that manages to be heartwarming without feeling saccharine and/or cheesy (though there are admittedly moments of both, though not to the movie’s detriment). Christmas is in the air, to be sure … but so is love.

Peter (Michael Urie) is a social media manager working for a vaguely-defined company in Los Angeles. He’s not particularly engaged with the work, though he is good at it – more than anything, he’s passionate about plants. He’s got a cardiologist boyfriend; they haven’t been together for long, but Peter feels confident enough to bring him home for the holidays to meet his family.

However, Peter’s best friend Nick (Philemon Chambers) – who wrote a best-selling children’s book, but now works as a TaskRabbit – inadvertently discovers that Peter’s boyfriend is not at all what he seems. Following the breakup, Peter is at a loss regarding what to tell his family – that is, until he comes up with a plan: Nick will pretend to be his boyfriend to keep Peter’s well-meaning but overinvolved family at bay.

As it turns out, they never get to set the plan in motion. Upon their arrival in New Hampshire, Peter’s mom Carole (Kathy Najimy) informs him that she’s already set him up on a blind date. It’s worth noting that Peter’s whole clan – dad Harold (Barry Bostwick), sisters Lisa (Jennifer Robertson) and Ashleigh (Melanie Leishman) and all the nieces and nephews – are generally confused as to why Peter and Nick aren’t a thing.

Peter agrees to meet James (Luke Macfarlane) and the two hit it off. They start spending time together, which is all well and good, but Peter’s teenaged nieces Sofia (Alexandra Beaton) and Daniela (Madison Brydges) have other ideas – they’re convinced that Peter and Nick belong together and start scheming accordingly.

All this, plus crazy Aunt Sandy (Jennifer Coolidge) is floating around, helming the annual Christmas pageant and generally being a weirdo.

As the days pass, Peter is torn between going out with James and spending time with his family. He’s having a good time and he finds himself thinking about moving back home, but he’s at a loss as to what that would mean – in truth, the only thing in Los Angeles that he would miss … is Nick.

And round and round we go.

“Single All the Way” is a delight. We’d be lucky to see more rom-coms of this ilk, well-made charmers with strong casts and engaging narratives. It doesn’t hurt that this film is wonderfully representative; it’s a romantic comedy about a gay man that doesn’t revolve around his sexuality. It’s not a closeted/coming out story – it’s a love story, full stop – and that is frankly lovely to see.

The setting is beautiful, with numerous shots and set pieces capturing the spirit of the season (even if those of us familiar with New Hampshire can see some pretty big incongruities). We get some beautiful outdoor shots and special mention should be made of everything about the Christmas pageant, because that’s its own special joy from rehearsals to performance.

Now, we can quibble about some things. The script isn’t particularly inspired, borrowing liberally from tropes both holiday and rom-com, but in a way, that’s almost the point. A purely conventional romantic comedy that happens to revolve around a gay man? Imagine such a thing even a decade ago. It’s formulaic in a lot of ways, and yet … that might be the most representative thing about it.

But honestly, who cares about formula when you’ve got this cast?

It might seem odd to say, but our two leads might be the least important part of the whole thing. That’s not to say they’re bad – quite the opposite. Urie has an awkward energy that is quite endearing – he basically radiates this vibe of both adoring his family and being exasperated by them. Chambers works wonderfully as a foil, though we don’t get as much of him as we might like. Still, he captures fundamental goodness in a way you don’t always see on screen.

But that supporting cast! Najimy is fantastic every time we see her, embodying the supportively pushy mother that we should all be so lucky to have in our lives. Bostwick walks into every moment with BDE – Big Dad Energy – that never fails to delight. Leishman and especially Robertson are great as Peter’s sisters, while Beaton and Brydges threaten to steal every scene they’re in, overflowing with sheer teenage matchmaking determination. And Coolidge might be the best part of the whole thing – Aunt Sandy is precisely the sort of chaos agent a movie like this needs to maintain momentum.

“Single All the Way” marks Netflix’s first foray into this type of rom-com, but we should hope it won’t be the last. It has its issues, to be sure – it’s not perfect – but those imperfections are all part of the charm that comes from the overall experience. A bad title, but a good movie.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 06 December 2021 10:54

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