Notable Occasions on the Calendar of Dread
A review by Brennan Klein.
The most I can say for Netflix launching their 2020 holiday movie campaign with Holidate on October 28 is that at least there's a scene set on Halloween in this one, so it's not as egregious as Hallmark's reign of terror. But at least Hallmark knows better than to pretend their toothless holiday romances are in any way edgy or smart. You can only wear the "smarter than this genre" hat if you've got a head on your shoulders. But I'm getting ahead of myself. What the hell is this movie about? Let me tell you.
Holidate opens on Christmas, where Sloane (Emma Roberts) experiences the hell of compulsory heterosexuality as her family constantly needles her for not bringing a date home for the holiday. Inspired by her single aunt Susan (Kristin Chenoweth, shooting for a Jennifer Coolidge vibe and raining down pure chaos), Sloane vows to nab a "holidate," a no-strings-attached fling to bring to holiday parties and not fall in love with. And wouldn't you know it, but she just so happens to meet handsome pro-golfer Jackson (Luke Bracey), an Australian who could crash a Hemsworth family reunion unnoticed. So throughout the year they date each other exclusively on holidays and no other days, and just like all friends-with-benefits relationships in movies, this is a perfectly satisfactory arrangement for these two consenting adults and they don't succumb to sex madness and start making moon eyes at each other. JK, we all know how this ends.
Sarcasm aside, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a good cliché. I'm speaking as someone who has sat through upwards of 300 slasher movies. Knowing how a movie is going to end doesn't inherently make it a bad work of cinema. You what does make it that though? Lighting a scene like this, and just letting it stay like that for three whole minutes:
No, this isn't a scene of our romantic leads twelve seconds away from being murdered by a Predator. This is just happening. There's no reason. Sometimes life is unfair.
It's not like the lighting was phenomenal up until this point. It's that kind of improperly managed digital photography that Netflix traffics in where everyone is just slightly shiny and overexposed and looks like a cookie that's been left in the oven for too long. But really, now.
And if you thought there couldn't possibly be anything worse than that shot in a movie made for human consumption, buckle in. Holidate has the gall to position itself as a sly commentary on the tropes of the rom-com. Now this kind of postmodern approach can work in a film like, say, Scream (though I know someone who might disagree with me). But Scream shines in two very specific ways. First, it wields the tropes of the horror genre with aplomb, reminding you that they're still scary no matter how much you make fun of them. Second, it actually has something to say about them, calling out certain aspects that haven't aged well and, say, cast women in a poor light.
Holidate fails at both of these. The romance elements are tedious and the leads have less chemistry than my film school class schedule. And the only tropes they call out are the easy ones that point out just how wow! jaded! the characters are about romance before their icy hearts melt ("Don't kiss me. I hate when rom-com characters kiss in the mornings because bad breath!" sneers Emma Roberts from lips glistening the perfect shade of plum).
They don't, for instance, acknowledge for one second that they're indulging in one of the most frequently called-out and tone deaf tropes of the genre: the sassy black best friend whose entire reason to live is to be a sounding board for a white person's romantic foibles. But wow! They sure do say "fuck" a lot, don't they? This isn't your grandmother's Hallmark movie!
Not all is terror and shame in Holidate, however. I laughed. Twice, even! And all the men are hot, which is really the only reason anybody is watching these movies anyway (just between you and me, I felt a lot kinder toward the movie in any scenes featuring Manish Dayal as Sloane's mom's neighbor and Julien Marlon Samani as her cheating ex, but let's not get distracted).
But even if you ache to sink into the abyss of an inane Netflix holiday treat, I would steer you away from Holidate. Try the Christmas Prince trilogy, perhaps. At least those movies are completely deranged, which is absolutely a positive in my book. Holidate just kind of lies there motionless, staring at the ceiling. Sure I want to kill time while remaining safe at home, but I'd rather not watch it die a slow, painful death.
Brennan Klein is a millennial who knows way more about 80's slasher movies than he has any right to. You can find his other reviews on his blog Popcorn Culture. Follow him on Twitter, if you feel like it.