Rating: 3.75 stars
Length: 1 hour, 41 minutes
This week, I watched Netflix’s holiday rom-com, Single All the Way, by director Michael Mayer. This is a rare holiday movie romance featuring gay leads and, while I am not a big holiday movie watcher, I had heard good things about this one so I gave it a shot.
Peter (Michael Urie) lives in L.A. and seems to never find the right guy. He thinks his current boyfriend of a few months may be a keeper and, with his family bugging him about always being single, he hints he will be bringing his boyfriend home for the holidays. But when things fall apart, Peter is left alone once again and has no one to bring with him. So he convinces his long-time best friend and roommate, Nick (Philemon Chambers), to accompany him home and pretend the two of them have fallen in love and are now dating. Nick is wary about the whole thing, but agrees to go along.
To Peter’s surprise, before they can spring the fake relationship on the family, he finds out his mother has set him up on a blind date with the local spin teacher/ski instructor, James (Luke Macfarlane, who seems to have become the king of holiday movies). With Nick jumping in to encourage him, Peter heads out on what he is sure will be a disastrous date, but actually turns out quite nice. Being home in New Hampshire also helps remind Peter how much he misses being with his family and how much he wants to get out of the social media business and live his dream of running a plant shop.
While Peter is happy and his mother (Kathy Najimy) is thrilled that all this may keep Peter in town, the rest of the family is upset, as they think Peter should be with Nick instead. They are sure the pair would be a better match and do all they can to help Peter and Nick figure out they are meant for one another. As the holiday draws near, Peter and Nick may just realize they are more than just friends after all.
So as I said, for full disclosure here, I rarely watch holiday movie romances (in fact, I can’t remember the last one I have seen), so I am coming into this review with a general knowledge of the genre, but not a great deal by way of comparison. Virtually all my experience with LGBTQ romance is through books, so both those those things are likely impacting my thoughts on this movie. I’ll also note that I watched this with my college-aged daughter who neither reads romance novels, nor watches holiday movie romances, so she was really entering this one cold. I had to laugh as she was surprised when signs started showing Peter would end up with Nick instead of James, which of course, any romance reader/watcher would know almost immediately from the set up. But I am sharing her thoughts here as well as mine (and both of us had the same rating).
This is your typical city boy returns home to his charming small town and realizes how much happier he would be there, rather than in the stress and bustle of his normal life. We don’t see much, either before Peter returns home or after, to indicate his unhappiness with his current life, but the town is suitably quaint, his family sweet and quirky, and the holiday cheer washes everything over to give it a particular appeal. The fact that the town is notably short on gay men can be neatly resolved by the handsome James, and the two hit it off quite well. The subtle suggestion here is that this is at least in part due to Peter’s desire to move home, but I found the pair to be cute together and have nice chemistry. However, the rest of Peter’s family is just certain he is really meant for Nick. I am not quite sure why they all think that, as while Peter and Nick seem to be incredibly close, there is nothing about them that came across to me as if they were at all interested in one another. The story makes a point to note several times that just because two gay men are friends, that doesn’t mean they automatically are attracted to one another, yet at the same time, this seems to largely be the reasoning behind why everyone thinks Nick and Peter should be a pair.
Honestly, I just didn’t feel the chemistry here between them the way I needed to go all in on the relationship. This may be partly because I am used to books where even if we don’t get a character’s direct POV, we typically are privy to their feelings through the narrative. Here, neither man seems interested in the other until someone in Peter’s family tells them that they are, then they acknowledge an attraction. There wasn’t enough romantic development or sense of feelings between them for me to fully buy into the ending. They felt like good friends to me, but not quite anything more. But despite all that, I enjoyed these guys together and appreciated we got a traditional holiday movie with not just gay leads, but one a BIPOC, and which includes some kissing, as well as them lying in bed together with Nick shirtless (and sexy).
The men spend most of their time around Peter’s quirky and loving family. It is clear that they adore him, accept him for who he is, and love Nick as well. My daughter said she really appreciated the loving family, as she feels like often in Christmas stories everyone is annoyed with their family and people are awful. She also liked that they all seemed distinct and have different roles in the story, rather than feeling interchangeable (and I agree with her assessment). Of course, the star of the show for both of us is Jennifer Coolidge, who plays the somewhat batty Aunt Sandy. Aside from being kind of wacky, Aunt Sandy also is directing the Christmas pageant, which gives us not only more hijinks, but a bit of a “we’re all in this together” montage as everyone pitches in to get the show on track. I wish Coolidge could have been let free a little more here, as the Aunt Sandy role is one she could probably play in her sleep at this point, but it adds some fun and craziness to the show and my daughter and I pretty much cracked up at every scene she steals.
Taking a step back, I really appreciated this movie for giving us gay leads in a very traditional holiday movie romance. While personally, I find this type of movie a little too sweet and syrupy, with too much family meddling and idealization of small town life, I also really liked that the story just goes there, this time with two men. But also, while we get some very traditional tropes and themes, there is also some fun, gay camp. This isn’t just two men plunked down in a movie with one of them replacing the woman. There is no question these are gay men, with gay jokes (and gay stereotypes at times), which I think is something sorely needed out there in the world. So while the romance didn’t totally kick in for me, I enjoyed this one and found it fun and charming. Fans of holiday movie romances should check this one out, and if like me you don’t watch them regularly, this could be a good place to start.