There’s always room for a movie that takes a popular formula and subverts it. “Isn’t it Romantic?” and “They Came Together” are recent spoofs on rom-com tropes that made fun of the formulas on the way to a happily-ever-after ending. Then there are films that R-ify the usual PG-13 rom-com sweetness by raunching them up a bit. They may not be Great Art but they have something savvy to say about both the conventions and the appeal of the romantic comedy, which, let’s face it, has been a crowd-pleaser going back to Shakespeare and probably before. “Holidate” tries to wink at the genre with complaints about how unrealistic romantic comedies are, but trust me, “Notting Hill” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (both starring the aunt of this film’s lead actress) are documentaries compared to this dud.
“Holidate” has nothing to say about anything. Basically, if Hallmark movies like “The Mistletoe Promise” and Netflix hits like “The Kissing Booth” are out in the world looking as beautiful as Dorian Gray, “Holidate” is the portrait hidden away in the attic getting more scrofulous by the minute.
The premise is in the title. Its only variation on the many, many movies about couples who pretend to be each other’s dates for Christmas or a wedding or some other family gathering, is that this is about two people who for the flimsiest of reasons pretend to be each other’s dates for a year’s worth of “holidays,” not just those where family will be together but also annual events that are more about drinking than celebrating, St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo. Just a few months ago, “Plus One” made this same idea work well.
“Holidate” gets off to a dismal start as our heroine, Sloane (Emma Roberts) arrives at her mother’s home for Christmas mumbling, “f-ing Christmas” and stopping on the front stoop to stub her cigarette out on the head of a Santa figurine. Her mom’s first comment: “Is this what you wear to Christmas dinner?” before launching into, “Why aren’t you married?” and trying to fix her up. We also meet her unpleasant family, including a harried sister who is a mother of four feeling out of touch with herself and her husband, a bro-ish brother and his sweet girlfriend, and an aunt (Kristen Chenoweth who needs to fire her agent NOW). If your bad movie bingo card included a child pooping in the manger, the only intelligent comments about relationships coming from a creepily precocious child, and a slutty aunt with a mall Santa one-night-stand discovered in flagrante delicto, all supposed to be HILARIOUS, well, you’re on your way to a win. If, on the other hand, you are hoping the movie will get less sour and more entertaining, you lose.