5 Screenwriting Takeaways: 'Holidate' and Formulas for Love on Screen
November 16, 2020
Holiday diversion movies are here in full force as Netflix and other streamers unveil their holiday slates, Holidate offers the lightest of light fare as America dreams of virus-free holiday gatherings or just a chance to date without a pandemic looming in the shadows. It’s no wonder the (what currently feels like a footloose and fancy free fantasy) film is currently trending high in streaming ranks. While the rom-com seems to hit most tropes in the books and one wishes the great premise worked a little harder to subvert the genre, there are always takeaways from knowing tropes inside and out, and Holidate is no exception.
1. Dating Rules:
Every great romcom has rules set forth of why the romantic leads cannot be together. My Best Friend’s Wedding maybe has the best rules and obstacles to overcome-- taking on stopping an entire wedding to a charming Cameron Diaz is a pretty huge “why they can’t date” hurdle. The rules of Holidate are much more simple-- and a nice clean premise. "Holidates" are just that- a date for a holiday so you don’t have to be alone. Nothing more, nothing less. And no sex with your "holidate." That will make things murky and cause attachments. Again, great solid rules for the premise (and sounds nice to anyone who has spent a holiday alone), but once rules are set, don’t forget to mind them. One can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened had the film taken greater advantage of the rules. When Emma Roberts’s Sloane realizes Luke Bracey’s Jackson was having plenty of sex on the side, it would’ve been fun to see her challenge him to wingman her. Additionally these rules set up a great premise for sexual tension but the writer held off from fully digging into that until mainly act three. Once rules are created, use them.
2. A Scene-Stealing Sidekick:
Arsenio Hall in Coming to America, Judy Greer in 27 Dresses. A rom-com sidekick role can change the trajectory of an actor’s career. And perhaps one of the best parts of Holidate is Kristen Chenoweth’s Aunt Susan. Susan is the catalyst for the whole idea of the holidate in the first place. She never shows up to a party alone. In fact she’ll show up with a stoner, a mall Santa, and in a Playboy Bunny rabbit suit for Easter. While Chenoweth’s character is a little one note, that doesn’t stop her from stealing every scene (or attempting to steal Sloan’s man). Aunt Susan is a wild card in the best way.
While the concept of Holidate lends itself well to set-pieces, a writer should not underestimate the power of a romantic setting. 500 Days of Summer used LA in an unforgettable way. Before Sunrise embraced Vienna. Sometimes a well-lit restaurant corner, or a dreamy karaoke bar can work just as well. Holidate’s Easter Egg hunt scene and men’s general love of firecrackers are both giggle-inducing and horrifying, but perhaps more than any place else, Holidate chose to make an all-American mall romantic. Depending on your opinion of consumerism and holidays in general the mall could be more a horror scene for you, but the movie did a great job of using mall tropes to a romantic advantage.
4. Relationship Red Herrings:
Every good rom-com needs a red herring of a relationship (or even just a date) for an obstacle to moving forward with the main romantic interest. Holidate found this in sexy and funny doctor Faarooq (Manish Dayal). When Sloane’s Mom sets her up for the thousandth time Faarooq is the first person to give Sloane pause. In fact, Faarooq is so great, audiences (and savvy screenwriters) may wonder why Sloane doesn’t give him more of a chance.
5. Overcoming Insecurities:
Here’s where the Holidate actually hits on some genuine tension. No matter how traditionally hot you are (Roberts and Bracey a bit annoyingly so) dating can bring out deep-seated insecurities. It turns out Jackson is too shy to fully ever ask out Sloane in a genuine way as he’s deeply afraid of rejection and Sloane’s been so hurt in the past that she’s got her heart on major lockdown, preventing her from getting to any kind of future-- great backstory, just don’t forget to mind it once you’ve set it up.
Ultimately it’s not hard to see why this movie is trending so hard. It’s light fare with a happy ending. It’s a candy cane treat in a sea of one insane year. While rom-coms often are served on a plate with little nutrition to offer audiences a little sweet treat, it’s even better if they can come with some extra meat on the bone. Either way, we all deserve a treat.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/