Is Single All The Way setting the world alight for its complex plotting? No. But it’s about time that the gays had a clichéd, fluffy Christmas film, isn’t it?
Starring Michael Urie, Philemon Chambers, Luke Macfarlane, Barry Bostwick, Jennifer Robertson, Jennifer Coolidge, and Kathy Najimy
There will come a time, dear reader, when a reviewer will not have to preface a film with “Netflix’s first gay Christmas romcom” or note how groundbreaking it is to have a festive film about a gay couple which allows the narrative to be pushed along without any sexuality-driven drama. That time, however, is not today. Of course, all films should be based upon their quality, but its cultural and social significance cannot be understated, and the sheer fact of queer representation makes this film deeply important to a huge swathe of the community.
That’s not to say, of course, that change isn’t happening. Love, Simon of 2018 was the first mainstream queer teen romance (that sounds needlessly niche, but when one considers the vast amounts of American high school movies, it seems more significant), though its protagonist was straight-passing. Previous cinematic releases, such as Brokeback Mountain or Call Me By Your Name presented queer relationships as far more bleak, and tragic, focussing upon the taboo or the forbidden nature of the love in question, leaving queer audiences with few representations of a happy, carefree relationship which didn’t centre upon the trauma of coming out or familial acceptance.
Kristen Stewart’s Happiest Season was a massive step in queer representation, though its narrative once again revolved around the fear of coming out and of rejecting one’s sexual identity, which still goes some way to “othering” same-sex relationships, though it is of course a stark reality which needs to be portrayed on film. Single All The Way, however, falls far more into the Love, Simon camp: it’s a highly familiar, conventional tale, just that the protagonist in question is a gay man.
Single All The Way follows Michael Urie’s Peter as he returns home for the holidays, unexpectedly single. Desperate for his doomed love life not to be the focus of the festive season, Peter drags his best friend Nick (Philemon Chambers) back home with him, under the pretence that the two are now dating. The lie is DOA, however, when Peter’s mother (Kathy Najimy) sets him up on a blind date with her trainer (Luke Macfarlane). Though Peter bemoans this act of match making, he soon discovers that James is ridiculously attractive and they tentatively start to date.
However, the rest of Peter’s family, including father Harold (Barry Bostwick), sister Lisa (Jennifer Robertson) and nieces Daniela (Madison Brydges) and Sofia (Alexandra Beaton) become determined to make Nick and Peter realise their love for each other, and set about contriving the two to end up together amidst Peter’s crazy Aunt Sandy’s (Jennifer Coolidge) Christmas pageant.
Oh, and, additionally, Nick is a children’s book author who is struggling with writer’s block and Peter works in social media marketing but secretly longs to open a plant shop. That kind of thing is essential in Christmas film narratives so that the audience can truly see that the two love each other by the end. So it will be clumsily introduced towards the beginning when a character announces “God, I wish I could fulfil my dream of [insert dream here]”, is promptly forgotten about for most of the movie, but then crops up in the end when the other says “I’ve found the perfect thing to help you achieve your dream of [insert dream here]”. Similarly, we can have things like “I was really struggling with [insert struggle here], but these past few days – with you – it’s been flowing out of me like festive-smelling diarrhoea, such is my undying devotion to you”. Oh, and don’t forget! “I didn’t realise that what I wanted had been right in front of me all along”, or “I love you. I do love you. But I was scared. Scared that if I admitted it that it would scare you away. And I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing you”. Wow, I’m starting to think that I should write one of these Christmas films. All I need is a vaguely festively-named town, a rough stable hand who seems rude but it turns out that his spouse died in some sort of tragic incident, and a big-city protagonist who finds themselves won over by the charming village and ultimately gives up all of their dreams in the name of Christmas. (In the sequel they’ll get a divorce at Easter-time).
It is upon this sense of conventionality and predictability that Single All The Way thrives. There’s nothing groundbreaking about the plot, but the novelty of seeing this story played out by a same-sex couple makes it more heartwarming and engrossing, and allows the audience to somewhat suspend their cynicism despite the lack of narrative surprise. Are Peter’s family somewhat too invested in his love life? Is some of the commentary upon gay relationships a little on the nose? Sure. But the joy of being able to have a shitty Christmas film to call one’s own cannot be underestimated.
With able performances across the board and a decent level of heart and warmth, Single All The Way will be loved for what it is, and for what it represents. The novelty of being able to watch a queer film that isn’t laden with trauma but is instead just a light-hearted romance about two best friends-turned-lovers is simply overdue.
Single All The Way is streaming now on Netflix.