Single All the Way review – Netflix’s first gay Christmas romcom

When 2018’s likable coming-(out)-of-age teen movie Love, Simon was released to an audience of unprecedented scale, a common riposte was that it wasn’t quite queer enough. The high-gloss YA tale of a white bread suburban teen accepting his sexuality was picked apart for its sanitised PG-13 worldview and by-the-books storytelling, playing it a little too straight for some. But it was the film’s sweet vanilla flavour that made it such a radical step, dragging a story usually told in the dark from the arthouse to the bright lights of the multiplex, giving gay teens something just as big and brash as the many, many, many straight-skewed high school films they had grown up on. Because, for some, the fight for basic rights should also include the fight for the right to be basic.

Related: Love Hard review – Netflix Christmas romcom is easy to like

Since then, it’s been less open floodgates and more slow trickle for more mainstream LGBT content, from the cosy Love, Simon spin-off series Love, Victor to Kristen Stewart’s Christmas romcom Happiest Season. The latter arrived as both Hallmark and Lifetime decided to include gay characters as leads in their festive fare, rather than sassy confidants, with last year’s The Christmas Setup and The Christmas House (a sequel to which also lands this month). Inevitably Netflix has now done its part with Single All the Way, an inoffensive addition to its ever-expanding container of Christmas content to half-pay attention to, made notable only by its diversity.

Peter (Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie) is preparing to enjoy his first Christmas with a boyfriend, who has unexpectedly agreed to join him back in New Hampshire to see family. But Peter’s best friend Nick (newcomer Philemon Chambers) discovers that his new man has been lying to him, forgetting to share the tiny detail of his heterosexual marriage. Peter is devastated but determined not to be the only single person at the table so he brings Nick back with him. He concocts a lie, that he and Nick are now in a relationship, but the facade soon drops when his mother (Kathy Najimy) sets him up with a handsome local trainer (Luke Macfarlane) instead. But as the two start dating, the family becomes focused on trying to make a real relationship happen between Peter and Nick.

The overwhelming conventionality of Single All the Way is kind of the point here, a comforting film-by-numbers designed to soothe rather than surprise. Michael Mayer, a Tony award-winning theatre director, has made a competent background watch that does what it needs to do without really trying to do anything else, passable on a base-level but lacking a certain spark. Perhaps a different duo might have helped in that regard because the lived-in chemistry these two need to convince us is nowhere to be found which makes the pair hard to buy as best friends and impossible to believe as a couple. Chambers is very charming, with a confidence that’s belies his inexperience, but Urie is stuck in wide-eyed sitcom mode, overemphasising every little moment and never softening into anything resembling a real person in his intimate moments with his competing love interests. What should have been a scene-stealing turn from drunk aunt Jennifer Coolidge, fresh off receiving her finest reviews to date for The White Lotus, is also disappointingly ineffective with Chad Hodge’s script failing to give her any real zingers and so she’s stuck in lazy reheat mode, an outsized distraction more than anything.

It’s pure mass market Christmas cookie cutter stuff that’s only made vaguely interesting in very short bursts because of its queerness. The sexuality and gender of the protagonist shifts what can often be a rather sexist festive movie trope, of the single hard-working cosmopolitan woman ultimately deciding that living in a small town baking cookies for a man is the better life, into something more progressive. Queer characters are usually associated with city life and so seeing a gay man tempted by the allure of a quieter, family first future is at the very least somewhat unconventional on film. It’s also refreshing to see a gay film where coming out isn’t the thrust of the conflict and where family members are all automatically accepting, a normal for many queer people that is rarely shown on screen. But these are small wins.

Because what Single All the Way ultimately does best is show us that a gay Christmas movie can be just as hackneyed as a straight one. We’re getting the same rather than getting better.

  • Single All the Way is now available on Netflix