Christmas Rom-Com 'Holidate' Is Old-School in All the Wrong Ways

Directed by John Whitesell

Starring Emma Roberts, Luke Bracey, Frances Fisher, Jake Manley, Kristin Chenoweth

BY Alex HudsonPublished Oct 28, 2020

It isn't Halloween yet and here we are with a tinsel-wrapped Christmas movie starring Emma Roberts (who, between this and 2018's Little Italy, is showing a bit of an affinity for old-school rom-coms). It's easy to get cynical about this kind of preemptive merriment, but, in such a joyless year, we should all be looking for good cheer anywhere we can find it, so whatever!

Holidate follows clichéd rom-com couple Sloane (Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey): she's the embittered nearly-30 woman whose parents pester her incessantly about settling down, he's the roguish hunk who can't be tamed by a clingy woman. "Chicks go mental on the holidays," he says during an early scene, just in case you were inclined to root for this bozo.

After having respectively horrible Christmases — her because she's single, him because his date was needy and desperate — Sloane and Jackson meet-cute when trying to return presents at the mall, even though I'm pretty sure most mall stores have a policy about not accepting returns during Boxing Week. They agree to be one another's "holidate" — a commitment-free date to take the pressure off on a holiday. They go to a New Year's Eve party together, where they seemingly attempt to out-scowl one another with their sour-faced toxicity. (Jackson wins this competition when he says, "Your tits look exceptional in that dress… Love the way it hugs your ass too.") They even bring the party to a halt with a synchronized Dirty Dancing routine, just in case Holidate seemed too realistic.

From there, Sloane and Jackson decide to be one another's regular "holidate," meeting up for asexual holiday dates on Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter and throughout the year.

It's a vaguely When Harry Met Sally-style friendzone concept that has decent potential as a corny, fantastical rom-com. Unfortunately, screenwriter Tiffany Paulsen's noxious dialogue sinks the plot's potential cuteness, as much of Jackson's conversation consists of pointing out the differences between men and women. "Women are hardwired to attach and procreate," he tells Sloane. The hardened protagonists eventually and inevitably soften up, but they've already made themselves so thoroughly dislikable that it's hard to buy in. I guess they deserve each other.

The jokes tend to be larger-than-life rather than actually witty — a finger blown off by fireworks, a laxative scene — so it's easy to overlook the genuinely funny exceptions (like a father-daughter wedding dance to Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You").

With tired gender stereotypes and a cynical outlook on relationships, this film seems like a grim throwback to an earlier era. As bad as 2020 might seem, Holidate is here to remind us that '90s nostalgia isn't any better.

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