Cynics have said before that there are only so many stories in the world. I don’t know how much I agree with that but the ‘fake dating’ trope is certainly a pretty common storyline in movies. It comes in a couple of forms, we’ve got the ‘boss coerces employee to be fiancé’ route (deeply problematic), we’ve got ‘friends (or co-workers) help each other out’, but this year there are two movies on my list with ‘absolute strangers act as one another’s plus ones for the holidays’. Naturally I had to get my galpals together so we could do a side by side comparison. First, a rundown of each movie.
The Mistletoe Promise, Amazon Prime (5 points – just nothing going on)
Based on the bestselling book by Richard Paul Evans. Two strangers who don’t enjoy Christmas meet at work and to avoid being lonely during the holidays make a pact to deal with holiday events together. But as they get to know each other they are able to begin enjoying Christmas. They soon realize that their contract may lead them down a road that neither expected resulting in questionable feelings
So, first things first. The thumbnail for The Mistletoe Promise with the two people ice skating? literally the happiest that woman is all movie. Just needed to get that off my chest. They don’t meet at work, they meet in a mall food court where our boy Nick rescues our girl Elise from some ridiculously annoying carol singers who follow her around while she’s eating her lunch. They have a little chat, realise they both have some trauma (not particularly discussed at this juncture) which means they hate Christmas and all the nonsense that goes with it.
Why the contract? Elise works with her ex-husband who is quite horrible and shoehorns in his younger model girlfriend into every work situation her can, Nick is up for promotion to partner at his law firm but everyone else who works there has a happy family. As a family lawyer Nick is afraid that he won’t be made partner if he doesn’t seem to be on that track. Nick offers to get Elise through the holidays by pretending to be her boyfriend, doting on her and going to events so that she doesn’t feel quite so alone and… not making her ex *jealous* as such, but by making sure she’s having a good time even though he’s there. In return, Elise will go to events on Nick’s arm, making it look like he’s doing the family thing and making him more attractive as potential partner material.
It works pretty well, they start falling for each other but Elise will. not. stop. getting in her own way. She seems to think that because they have a contract they shouldn’t fall for each other – because it said “no feelings” and said they shouldn’t go “too deep” into each other’s history she always stops herself. Dan, her ex and the ‘techie’ guy at the company, finds the contract that she and Nick have made and sends it to all her employees to embarrass her. It works but Elise doesn’t let that stop her helping out Nick. Until they get to a Christmas Eve dinner with his bosses and she decides that Nick is too good at his job and it’s an outrage that he might not be made partner just because he’s not married. She politely explains the ruse, points out what a wonderful man and lawyer Nick is and it would be an affront if he wasn’t promoted, then she excuses herself to go back to the hotel. Nick runs after her but she turns him away.
Luckily Nick knows what we need and he does something cute and waits outside her door and she realised she’s daft and should just fall for him.
Holidate, Netflix (10 points – fairly standard bracket)
Fed up with being single on holidays, two strangers agree to be each other’s platonic plus ones all year long, only to catch real feelings along the way.
We meet Sloane being picked on by her family for not having a date for Christmas dinner. We then meet Jackson who went on date number 3 with a girl which involved being at her parents’ house and being subjected to matching jumpers.A couple of days after Christmas they meet trying to return Christmas gifts at a store. They discuss rubbish Christmases and Sloane mentions that her Aunt Susan always has a ‘holidate’ i.e. a date for a holiday celebration. Jackson asks Sloane to be his holidate for New Year but she turns him down. She changes her mind and they have a brilliant time. On Valentine’s Day she’s buying herself pity candy when she runs into her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend; Jackson, who is walking by, steps in. They agree to be holidates for the foreseeable future but to keep it platonic.
They have some great dates but then get drunk on Cinco de Mayo and sleep together. Sloane freaks out and refuses to discuss it – saying they must stay platonic. At a Fourth of July party Jackson blows off one of his fingers and Faarooq, a doctor who Sloane’s mum wants her to date, has to fix it. Sloane and Jackson have a ‘moment’, but Jackson’s friend convinces him it was probably meaningless. For Sloane’s brother’s wedding Jackson goes as Aunt Susan’s date instead, and Sloane goes with Faarooq. Susan and Faarooq hit it off and Sloane and Jackson decide to resume being holidates.
Sloane and Jackson go to a Halloween party and bump into Sloane’s ex and his pregnant girlfriend. Distraught she drinks a lot, including a drink (accidentally) containing laxatives. Jackson takes her home as she tries to make it to the bathroom. He takes care of her after and they fall asleep together on her bed. In the morning they have sex but when Sloane’s sister arrives and bursts the bubble. Sloane feels they have made a mistake and gets Jackson to leave. Jackson still acts as Sloane’s holidate for Thanksgiving but Susan doesn’t come with Faarooq. Sloane and Jackson are sent to the shops for supplies, Jackson tries to bring up what happened but Sloane shuts him down. Later in the day Susan’s date has a heart attack. Sloane and Susan take him to the hospital where he’s seen by Faarooq. Sloane convinces Susan not to give up on her love for Faarooq, she confesses to him and they kiss.
We cut to a few days before Christmas with Sloane, her mum, and her sister are shopping in the mall and they see Jackson. Sloane realises she’s been dumb and tries to chase him down calling his name. He doesn’t hear but as she runs past a Christmas choir they sing his name to get his attention. She stands on Santa’s throne and confesses her idiocy and her love for him. They kiss, The End.
OK, so, the movies are actually much more different to each other than I expected. Which is pretty nice, it’s good to not have to watch the exact same movie twice in a row. Having written them up I realise just how similar Sloane and Elise are – well, in that they keep trying to clamp down on their feelings. It felt more annoying when Elise did it though because Nick was making it gently clear that he reciprocated. Whereas Jackson was not doing a very good job of getting his feelings across.
The Mistletoe Promise scored 4s across the board with one friend deeming it “not interesting enough to hate”, which I have to say I’d agree on. It was nice enough, sweet enough, but just a bit bland. Even though the stakes are lower in Holidate (just trying to not get picked on/make bad choices vs. job promotion) it felt a lot more important and dramatic. It might just be because the actors are much higher energy but it did score a 7 from each of us. I wouldn’t say either is watch-again-able, but I wouldn’t even bother watching The Mistletoe Promise once. Watch Holidate if you want to groan with your friends or scream ‘JUST TALK’ at the top of your lungs.