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film review

Emma Roberts, left, as Sloane Reed and Luke Bracey as Jackson Pieretti in Netflix's Holidate.Steve Dietl/Netflix

  • Holidate
  • Directed by John Whitesell
  • Written by Tiffany Paulsen
  • Starring Emma Roberts, Luke Bracey and Kristen Chenowith
  • Classification N/A; 103 minutes

Rating:

2.5 out of 4 stars


Given that the new movie Holidate stars Emma Roberts and comes courtesy of Netflix’s ever-churning rom-com factory floor, there are good reasons to be wary. For starters, the streaming giant’s genre track record is dire. While the company has been crushing it in the volume of new movies produced, they’ve also been crushing audiences' spirits, with such recent efforts as Love Wedding Repeat, The Kissing Booth, Desperados, and (shudder) Love, Guaranteed more vom than rom (vom being shorthand for vomit). And Roberts? Her most recent headlining gig was the 2018 Canadian atrocity Little Italy, already a classic in the so-bad-it’s-really-really-really-bad Cancon hall of infamy.

So, Holidate has a lot to live up to, or down to. But the movie surprises on almost every level, breaking a number of contemporary rom-com rules along the way thanks to Tiffany Paulsen’s self-aware screenplay. I don’t mean in the meta-satirical sense of, say, David Wain’s absurdist They Came Together. More like a watered down Nora Ephron project.

Kristin Chenoweth as Aunt Susan in Holidate.Steve Dietl/NETFLIX/Netflix

Holidate knows and appreciates the clichés of the genre, and (mostly) swerves around them. Paulsen’s characters are a touch too silly, but they’re not cardboard cut-outs. Her meet-cutes are light, but enjoyably so. Her central romance is believable, even charming. And the entire thing is appreciatively unchaste, with enough swearing and screwing to refresh a genre that’s been unfairly and inexplicably trapped in a cage of family-friendly sterility.

Not that the film is a cinematic miracle, either. The Chicago-set romance between the perpetually single Sloane (Roberts) and the cad-ish golf-pro Jackson (Luke Bracey) goes through the predictable motions of attraction/hook-up/misunderstanding/repeat. But there is real charm to the couple’s pairing, as there is to the film’s somewhat novel conceit of shoving together two people who only want companionship for the holidays – Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day – and are content to be on their own the rest of the year. Sort of. This is a rom-com after all.

Roberts and Bracey also prove that, in the right hands, they can be compelling leads. I guess they just have bad judgment when it comes to selecting Canadian projects (see Bracey’s even-worse-if-than-Little-Italy-if-you-can-believe-it Cancon affair Lucky Day).

Sure, director John Whitesell shoots the thing like a TV movie and Paulsen also can’t help but indulge some unbearably wacky gags involving laxative pills and crude mall Santas. But Holidate isn’t worth breaking up with Netflix over. You might even be tempted to renew your subscription vows.

Holidate is available to stream on Netflix starting Oct. 28

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