Netflix Holiday Movie Review: Single All the Way (2021)

Like putting new lenses in a beloved old pair of glasses, this week's sharply written, sweet-natured gay Netflix holiday romcom gives us a fresh look at a familiar genre.

Wisely and earnestly leaning into the tropes of a Christmas romance, in the quick-witted charmer “Single All the Way,” screenwriter Chad Hodge (who created one of my favorite little-seen TV shows of the late 2010s in “Good Behavior”) wins us over with his sincere affection for the films he's using as a jumping-off point.

To this end, when we first meet our adorable yet perpetually unlucky in love protagonist Peter (Michael Urie), he's disappointed once again after another short-lived romance goes down in flames. As tired of working on social media ad campaigns in Los Angeles as he is being single, when Peter begins making plans to visit his family in New Hampshire for the holidays, he ropes his oldest friend and roommate Nick (Philemon Chambers) into coming home with him and posing as his new boyfriend.

Not wanting to lie to a family that's come to mean almost as much to him as Peter, Nick begrudgingly goes along with Peter's plan. However, just when you think you've seen this movie before, almost as soon as they arrive at his parent's house, a wrench is thrown into the proceedings by Peter's jubilant mother Carole (Kathy Najimy). 

Appearing on the scene with her newest homemade sign “Sleigh Queen,” before Peter and Nick can deliver their white lie, Carole decides to play another one of the romcom genre's greatest hits by happily announcing that she's set her son up on a blind date with her hunky spin instructor James (Luke Macfarlane).

But while his mom is content to try to craft a new romance for her son (like it's just one of the many signs she gives as gifts and hangs throughout the home), the rest of his family decides it's time to bring Peter and Nick together once and for all. Sensing not only their obvious chemistry but perhaps the lingering looks sent Peter's way by Nick, Peter's father (Barry Bostwick) and nieces make it their holiday mission to make this vital love connection. Gradually, they bring an amused, if torn, Nick into the fold.

Whether you're a devotee of the endless holiday romcoms produced by the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime every year, or your favorites are the classics like “The Shop Around the Corner,” and Christmas in Connecticut,” etc., or you stick with the treacly yet wicked wit of British comedies like “Bridget Jones's Diary” or “Love Actually,” romance fans know precisely where this film is headed almost as soon as it starts.

Yet rather than run from the genre conventions we routinely see in these traditionally straight romances, “Single All the Way” uses them as vibrant, positive building blocks to show that love is love, family is family, and it's both all relative and universal. Proving this, it layers in a variety of beloved romcom mainstays from its small-town setting (as Peter wonders if he should move back home) and a friends to lovers plotline to a dance number (to Britney, bitch!) and romantic hijinks care of quirky relatives, including an obligatory scene where the two leads must share a bed. 

Along the way, "Single" incorporates an amusing, if undercooked subplot involving a community Christmas pageant called “Jesus H. Christ” that's the brainchild of Peter's colorful Aunt Sandy, who's played by Jennifer Coolidge. Much like Najimy gives the film a needed shot of candy-cane-coated adrenaline as soon as we see her, with her warmth, humor, and vivacity, veteran Christopher Guest scene-stealer Coolidge buoys her part of the film, which, unfortunately, plays like a rushed afterthought.

Guided by a steady hand, “Single All the Way” was helmed by the versatile Michael Mayer, who directed the moving, gorgeously acted but woefully underseen adaptation of “A Home at the End of the World,” as well as the excellent “Flicka” and “The Seagull.” Mayer knows how to work with actors and it shows. 

With so much - at times, too much - going on throughout, although it's easy to predict that of course, Peter will end up with Nick, “Single All the Way” is a loving, spirited ensemble film that never runs out of plot. Tonally, as sunny and bright as the visuals are snowy and cozy, and filled with terrific turns by a talented cast that's ready for anything (including “Schitt's Creek” star Jennifer Robertson), as someone who watches a lot of these films, “Single All the Way,” greatly exceeded my expectations.

Succeeding where last year's well-intentioned, star-studded, but ultimately disappointing Hulu film “Happiest Season” failed, while I'm speaking merely as a straight film critic, it feels truly rewarding and vital for audiences to see an LGBTQ holiday romantic comedy that doesn't make coming out or lying to one's family the main character's entire narrative arc. Similarly fighting against other gay movie tropes where its protagonist desperately wants to escape their small town and go to the big city or make their parents understand their lifestyle, it's refreshing instead to see Bostwick and Najimy scheme and plan to get their son happily coupled up.

By making the sexuality of its characters secondary to everything else going on, "Single All the Way" cleverly sidesteps the need for any moral speechifying that would pull us out of the storyline and ring false. Respecting our maturity and intellect right from the start, Mayer's film counts on its audience to have already come to the realization that we all deserve love, not to mention contemporary, clear-eyed, re-framed romantic movies for one and all that are this heartfelt, genuine, and fun.
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