Movie review: Holidate

(image courtesy IMP awards)

There is something about the holidays, any holidays really but especially the big ticket, expectations laden ones like Christmas, that almost demand you are happily coupled up.

That’s doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be to enjoy them; the very idea is ridiculous and an insult to anyone single on the day, but as Christmas, New Years and a slew of other big days off the rat race leap from the calendar and its shell-shocked, “is it really that time of the year again?” hands, a great many people are seized by a need to find someone or a melancholy that once again they are alone and can’t do a damn thing about it.

The solution, at least according to the unexpectedly delightful and gleefully wicked Holidate, directed by John Whitesell to a script by Tiffany Paulsen, is to find another commitment averse and bring them along to every significant celebration.

There’s no need for any kind of profound social engagement, you can walk away when the day is done and resume your perfectly happy single life, and you can keep your family off your back for one more major holiday.

Only it’s not quite that simple, is it?

For one thing, while our rational minds can happily agree to one thing, weighing up the pros and cons and giving the idea a great tick of approval, our hearts often have entirely different ideas.

That’s the core idea behind Holidate, which brings together strangers Sloan (Emma Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey) at a mall one day when they are waiting in line to exchange clothes given to them by family or would-be family at yet another awkward Christmas event.

Neither of them is in the mood for any kind of meaningful coupling, or even a throwaway one, but the idea of a holi-date, inspired by Sloan’s ever-single Aunt Susna (Kristin Chenoweth) who turns up to each and every holiday do with a new man at her side (names unimportant), seizes them both with excitement, Jackson more than Sloan at first, and they agree to go to a swanky New Years event together.

It’s perfect, right?

All the fun of the fair, or a ball in this case, tight suits and gorgeous dresses abounding, a DJ playing the latest tracks on a brightly-lit dancefloor, and absolutely no expectation of anything of any great import resulting.

Sloan and Jackson think they’ve hit the jackpot, again the latter more than the former, but there’s a little reluctance to rely on holi-dates as a way of enduring another big family event. (Though, to be fair, Sloan’s family aren’t that bad and well, we never see Jackson’s who are happily back in Australia.)

The second holi-date they spend together is borne of a chivalrous rescue by Jackson of Sloan who is caught in a candy store in the lead up to the Valentine’s Day by her ex-boyfriend and his gorgeous new girlfriend.

So begins a festive year of celebrations at each other’s side, with Valentine’s Day followed by Easter, Cinque de Mayo, Mother’s Day, 4th July, Labor Day (with wedding! Not theirs but Sloan’s brother,York, played by Jake Manley), Halloween and Thanksgiving before looping back Christmas.

It might sound all very light and frothy as romantic comedies go, and in a sense it is, but Holidate works, and works delightfully, thanks to a witty, knowing and raunchy script, and performances by Roberts and Bracey, both of whom bring real personality and humanity to their respective roles, not to mention some pitch perfect comedic timing.

Holidate is both very romantic – get ready to swoon to the idea that your pragmatic perpetual, no-strings-attached date can become your forever person and the best thing to ever happen to you – very funny and groundedly, sweetly human.

It’s probably the last thing you’d expect of a film that pitches itself in the trailer as a “god our families annoy us, as do holidays, so let’s get through this together” type of movie, but the fact is that for all its bawdy jokes and sexual references, and grim observations of the perils of being alone at couple-centric events, Holidate actually has a fun, affecting, beating heart.

It dares to acknowledge that even though people dismiss their loneliness and do their best to ignore it most of the year, that holidays, with all their gaiety, bonhomie and endless attempts to stir up memorable fun, amplify how very alone they feel.

It is one of life’s perverse ironies that events meant to make you feel included and part of something special, often have very much the opposite effect.

Holidate is by no means some sort of therapy heavy dissertation on the existential loneliness of people at major social events, happy to occupy, and occupy it well, ground often trod by many rom-coms before it, but it does bring out, against all expectations, the idea that we are often most alone when we are together with the people we love the most, whether that’s friends of family.

The film’s solution to this may seem far fetched but hey it’s a rom-com so over the top, far fetched and hilarious preposterous are all part of the mix, and if you have a beating heart in your body and a funny bone left somewhere, you’ll likely enjoy it, but it works because Holidate never once forgets its heart as it shoots straight for the rom-com comedy juggler.

Bracey and Roberts are both heartfelt and witty, the script never misses a beat and doesn’t overstay its welcome at any one holiday and it sports an ending that while cliched as hell, works a treat, rewarding us with a coming together that is fairytale perfect and just what the life doctor ordered.

Holidate is proof perfect that you can make a meaningful, affecting point even as you traipse merrily down a well-worn rom-com route, and that assembling a series of holiday set pieces with lurking love at their centre doesn’t have to be cheesy but can be fresh, fun and the perfect way to bat way those nagging, solitary holiday blues.

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