Single All the Way is as delightful and infectious as Hallmark-styled holiday films should be, and marks Netflix’s first such success in his arena.
Netflix’s new holiday-themed gay romance Single All the Way — how has this not been a rom-com Christmas movie title before? — opens with an obvious bit of pandering, as a series of buff men pose shirtless for a shaving cream ad campaign spearheaded by the cute but perpetually unlucky-in-love Peter (Michael Urie). It’s tough to not roll your eyes here, imagining the assorted clichés and stereotypes that are about to unfurl over the course of the next 90 minutes. But thankfully, director Michael Mayer and screenwriter Chad Hodge have a few tricks up their sleeves, delivering a film that is more gleefully beholden to your standard Hallmark fare than the seemingly endless low-budget gay romances that can be found on any number of streaming services. Holiday films, by and large, operate on a plane of formula and cliché, reducing characters to a few recognizable traits and ingratiating quirks, and that certainly holds true here for protagonist Peter, who hates his job and loves his houseplants. But Single All the Way thankfully never attempts to make Peter’s sexuality one of those “eccentricities,” nor is it painted as a point of dramatic strife; rather than being his sole defining trait, his sexuality is merely one aspect of the complex fabric of his humanity. Imagine that. But that measuredness doesn’t mean there isn’t a gay sensibility that runs throughout Single All the Way — this is, after all, a movie that features Jennifer Coolidge as a drunk relative and wannabe actress who is mounting a Christmas pageant entitled Jesus H. Christ! and discusses how much she loves that gay men adore her — and it’s handled with refreshing authenticity. That this is even worth noting in 2021 offers a pretty poor reflection of Hollywood’ reductive approach to gay culture and characters.
Meritorious as all that is, none of it means that Single All the Way is some modern-day masterpiece. In execution, this is still very much your average, run-of-the-mill Christmas flick plot-wise. Peter invites his gay best friend Nick (Philemon Chambers) to accompany him to his tiny-ass hometown in New Hampshire for holiday festivities in a misguided ruse to fool his family into believing the two are dating, because Peter is sick of them constantly worrying about him being single. But Mayer and Hodge prove surprisingly adept at misdirection, as this particular plot thread is discarded almost instantly. Mom Carole (Kathy Najimy) has set Peter up on a blind date with her hunky spin instructor, James (Luke Macfarlane), a detail that forces the pair to abandon their foolish plan almost instantly. That this maneuver allows the film to shift its focus to an admittedly even more hackneyed plot could be viewed as a lateral move, as the family proceeds to work overtime in trying to make both Peter and Nick realize that they are actually in love with each other, but it’s all hair-splitting anyway. More important than reinventing the holiday rom-com template is that Single All the Way goes down as easy as a hot toddy thanks to the chemistry of its cast, all of whom play off one another with exceptional ease and seem to genuinely enjoy one another’s company, no small feat for this particular trope-laden genre. Mayer captures the infectious warmth and strikes the right balance of cliché that these films need in order to succeed, and it doesn’t hurt when when you stack your deck with ringers like Coolidge, Najimy, Barry Bostwick, and Jennifer Robertson, resulting in more than a few legitimate laugh-out-loud moments.
Urie, of Ugly Betty fame, makes for an incredibly charming lead, as does newcomer Chambers. In truth, however, Urie has more palpable chemistry with blind date Macfarlane than he does Chambers, but the two share an easy rapport that keeps that particular fault forgivable, if not entirely forgettable. Mayer’s direction doesn’t rise above pro forma Netflix blandness, but he’s smart enough to step out of the way and let his affable cast claim center stage, which is all you really need to do with a film ilk — limited ambition, loaded with charm. He even finds the time to stage a choreographed dance number between guncle Peter and his two teenage nieces set to Britney Spears’ “My Only Wish,” which is exactly the kind of flex a film like this deserves. None of this means that Single All the Way is a new holiday classic or accomplishes any other such hyperbole, but it is one of those rare films that manages to feel like a pure, unadulterated delight from beginning to end, and is certainly the best Christmas flick Netflix has produced since its inception — the bar is low, we know. And the fact that the streaming juggernaut succeeded where studios so consistently fail — namely, in producing a gay romance that isn’t centered around coming out or past trauma (looking at you, Happiest Season) — proves that holiday miracles really do come true.
You can currently stream Michael Mayer’s Single All the Way on Netflix.