If you find yourself watching Netflix’s newest romantic comedy Holidate, a game that you can play is to drink each time a character uses the word, “holidate.” You’ll be drunk because it happens an astonishing twenty-four times over the course of its runtime (or roughly once every four minutes), but it’s also the most fun you’re going to get out of this bizarrely charmless holiday romance.
Sloane (Emma Roberts) dreads going to her family’s for the holidays. Now that her siblings have each paired off with a significant other, all eyes are on her and her singleness. Her family seems determined to remedy this situation either through spectacularly unsubtle matchmaking or just incessant nagging. Jackson (Luke Bracey), on the other hand, never seems short of a date around the holidays. He just continually ends up accompanying girls he’s casually involved with to their family holiday parties, which is a weird problem to have, mostly because it seems extraordinarily easy to avoid. (Tell the girl you’ve gone on a date with twice and therefore have no emotional connection to that you’re…not ready to meet her parents yet?)
When Sloane and Jackson have a meet-cute in the return line of a department store while simultaneously being the type of obnoxious customers that every salesperson rightfully loathes, they come up with a plan that might just fix all their problems. From here on out, they will be each other’s designated “holidate,” a person they can rely on to accompany them to any festive gathering, so they can finally stop being hassled by friends and family. (The term is coined by Sloane’s feisty Aunt Susan played by Kristin Chenoweth, who is the only person who seems to be having any fun.) You can probably guess where it goes from here.
And as much as this sounds like a bog-standard made-for-TV holiday rom-com, it actually has an incredibly strange tone. In most ways, it’s mimicking a cheesy Hallmark Channel storyline we’ve seen dozens of times before. But it also seems eager to be…edgy, somehow? As if to say, “Yeah, we know what you’re expecting, but this isn’t your mom’s romantic comedy: we’re on Netflix, so we can say the f-word and talk about sex stuff!” This would be fine if it was done well; a more adult take on a schmaltzy holiday romance actually sounds like fun. But the writing in Holidate constantly comes across like a fifteen-year-old old trying to include a bunch of envelope-pushing material that they think sounds grown-up, and it’s very jarring.
Furthermore, despite their best efforts, Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey just don’t have much chemistry with each other. Audiences are willing to overlook a lot of dumb and cliche storytelling in these types of romantic comedies, as long as the leads at least seem like they’re into one another. But here? Not so much. Or rather, it’s hard to tell if they genuinely don’t have chemistry, or if it’s being squashed by the odd situations they’re forced into. Like when Jackson is just sort of rinsing Sloane’s back with a showerhead after an embarrassing diarrhea set-piece, for example. No one is coming off as sexy in that scenario.
They also spend a lot of time having long, involved conversations that are annoyingly gendered. So much of what they discuss is centered around how women act and what they want in comparison to how men think and act, as though everyone’s behavior falls into one of two distinct camps. It’s probably aiming for a Nora Ephron-esque commentary on gender politics to deconstruct how men and women relate and interact with one another, but the writing is so simplistic and unimaginative that all it really does is take up time that could be better spent giving the lead characters the opportunity to actually talk about each other as individuals.
There are some weird choices that Holidate makes along the way. It utterly wastes Alex Moffat in a tiny, thankless role as Sloane’s uptight brother-in-law, a character so bafflingly non-descript that the only possible explanation for Moffat’s appearance here is that he owed the director a favor. It also has a particularly awkward comic bit where an Asian-American character has a father-daughter dance to I’ll Make Love to You by Boyz II Men at her wedding, apparently not realizing the song is all about sex. To be honest, it feels weirdly racist. And even the parts that aren’t actively offensive, the comedy doesn’t land particularly well.
But ultimately, the biggest issue with Holidate is that none of the characters are likable, least of all our two would-be lovers. Most people are probably going into this kind of lightweight holiday romance with low expectations, but the one thing they’re definitely looking for is some kind of charm or chemistry. It doesn’t have to be good, but we at least want it to be cute! Sloane and Jackson, though? They never really connect. They just float in each other’s orbit for a while, wasting a tried-and-true trope with tepid romantic energy and a will-they-won’t-they narrative that’s almost impossible to care about.