Friday, May 24, 2024

Don’t Save the Date for ‘Holidate’

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Holidate is a romantic-comedy that has seen and closely studied other romantic-comedies. But knowing the genre isn’t the same as saying it’s worth a watch. This is a movie in which one character gives another a hand-job in a mall parking lot but the two hold off on having sex for fear of taking things too far. 

John Whitesell’s Holidate is long on contrivance and short on anything else. All of this would be fine if the characters were someone who you would want to spend time with. They are not, or at least, the time is never quality time.

Whitesell is never sure what the movie is.  Holidate is reminiscent of Adam Sandler or Tyler Perry movies. They delight in vulgarity but traffic in modest conservatism. In other words, they’ll try some high falutin new-fangled dating fad like “friends with benefits” or “only see each other at holiday events so we don’t have to stress about finding a date”. But they won’t ever realize that there’s no one way to have a relationship or to love. Instead, they’ll end up like “everyone” does; in a traditional monogamous relationship, with marriage and kiddies on the horizon.

If Holidate were at all charming or entertaining, none of this would matter. It is neither. Though I don’t half wonder if it wouldn’t work better as a made for television movie, commercial breaks would make the move far more bearable. 

Emma Roberts’s Sloane and Luke Bracey’s Jackson are cardboard cut-outs of caricatures. Sloane has recently broken up with Luc (Julien Marlon) because she caught him cheating. Bracey’s Jackson is tired of dealing with women because his last girlfriend took him to meet her parents on their third date. “Chicks go crazy on the holidays.”

The two meet in line at a department store returning respective gifts. As meet-cutes go this is both archaic and dull. Still, Roberts and Bracey try their best to make the banter work, though it’s not easy because there’s nothing relatable or sweet about these characters.

From there they hit upon the idea of being “holidates”. They won’t date, or be friends. But on holidays they’ll be each other’s dates. They won’t have sex though-oh no, that would be crossing the line. 

Holidate behave as if this notion is somehow groundbreaking or new. The whole “no sex” thing is a head-scratcher considering how “vulgar” Holidate tries to be. The aforementioned hand-job scene being the high watermark of the movie’s idea of pushing the envelope. It would be one thing if either Sloane or Jackson were asexual or Ace but then again that’s assuming a Holywood screenwriter has any notion of sexuality outside of the boring heteronormative one she’s constructed.

To be clear, Holidate isn’t lame because of it. No, it’s lameness comes from how it merely repeats everything it has seen in countless other movies, but in a way that’s dull and charmless. The myopic view of sexuality is notable because of how very little is going on that had they but just been at all the slightest bit more aware, there might have been some bit of salvageability.

Instead, we get the moment where Sloane is accidentally given a laxative instead of an antacid. The joke being she is in a sexy pirate Halloween costume with a corset so when the laxative hits, she has to struggle to get it off. I found myself cringing when her stomach started gurgling, if only because as bland as Roberts’s character is I don’t wish this on anyone.

I couldn’t help but laugh eventually, not because of the diarrhea gag. But because two scenes later, after Sloane has literally crapped her pants, is when the movie decides it’s time for them to have sex.

If that isn’t love; I don’t know what is.

For some strange reason though, after they’ve consummated their feelings, the movie has another thirty minutes to go. I can’t for the life of me tell you why. In my book once you’ve had sex with someone on the same night they’ve had explosive diarrhea, and help wash them clean, you’ve pretty much cleared all the major emotional and physical hurdles needed for a healthy stable relationship.

Tiffany Paulsen’s script is at times clever. It works best when Sloane is just talking to other women. Moments like when she’s talking to her older sister Abby (Jessica Capshaw) or trying to bond with her brother’s fiance Liz (Cynthy Wu). But the best is her Aunt Susan played by that blessed Saint of dumpster fires Kristen Chenoweth. 

Chenoweth is given nothing to do and Holidate damn near comes close to wasting her. But because of her innate Chenoweth-ness, she makes us interested in her inner life. When she’s around we find ourselves cursing the rotten luck that we’re forced to follow Sloane and Jackson and not Aunt Susan and whichever boy toy she’s brought with her this time.

That she should end up with the sexy younger next-door neighbor who just happens to be a doctor, Faarooq (Manish Dayal) is good for her. A more interesting movie would have had Faarooq end up with Sloane instead of Jackson. Granted pairing the suave put together Faarooq with the loud boisterous Aunt Susan is a stroke of genius. It’s just criminal that their not the main characters.

Paulsen’s script is a love letter to the genre. But she’s too faithful and seems fine keeping the genre trapped in the early aughts. For a movie, in the 21st century, it feels strangely dated.

Yes, it’s a movie where it’s two attractive leads share doubt if the other one is really attracted to them. Because, after all, how could the other possibly love an unkempt slob such as themselves? Though at times her characters seem to recognize the banality of the entire setup. 

Sloane’s little brother is getting married. His wedding, which is on a holiday, Labor Day. She discusses with Abby the problems developing between her and Jackson. The two may actually like “like” each other. Abby is rightfully confused. “I don’t understand. You like him. He likes you. These are not real problems.”

But this scene is intercut with another scene in which Jackosn is having a similar discussion with his best friend Neil (Andrew Bachelor). Neil is the movie’s lone Black character. and delivers one of the most groan-worthy lines of the tear. “You can not go to a wedding with a girl who has actual feelings for you. They start to get ideas and sh*t. Listen to me brother, as a black man, I’m speaking to this.”

Paulsen’s script and Whitesell’s pedantic direction make Holidate a rote and charmless vehicle with actors who deserve better. I haven’t even mentioned the great Frances Fischer who plates Sloane’s busybody and doting mother who tries to set her up with every eligible man she meets. Even the lovable Dan Lauria, an actor whose presence always exudes a calm serenity no matter the character, as one of Aunt Susan’s one night stands, shows up and tries to lighten the load of the two leads.

It’s all so irritating. Whitesell and Paulsen keep setting up interesting development or plot details only to leave them unresolved. Abby is struggling in her marriage because her husband is always working. She’s even “kissed” Neil at a party. Towards the end, Abby and Peter (Alex Moffat) fight. She accuses him of never being around. He responds with “I’m with the kids. Someone has to be!”

What happens? Who knows? Someone else has a heart attack and so the scene and conflict is never brought up or mentioned again. Though during the credits we see Abby and her husband in pictures in Vegas getting re-married. Still, it’s a cheap resolution and just another in a litany of irritants found in Holidate.

None of this is helped by how dingy the movie looks. Outside scenes are fine, but scenes inside have this dark underlit quality to them that weighs down the mood and dilutes the comedy. It may seem a minor thing but lighting in comedy is a surprisingly deft skill that has a monumental impact. It’s one of those things where you don’t see it until it’s not there.

Holidate feels like one of those joke movies you see in Hollywood satires. But it never feels to be in on the joke. Like a sketch blown up to a full-length movie, Holidate is filled with characters with no last name, no jobs, and even fewer reasons to recommend it.

Image courtesy of Netflix

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