It’s the holiday season and Netflix has defrosted its ever-populated original movie catalog with a new slew of romantic comedies.
Like Hallmark movies with a bigger budget and less Christianity, Netflix Christmas movies have become a genre of their own. With outlandish settings, questionable dialogue and painful plotting, Netflix’s offerings range from criminal to cute.
The 2021 additions bring a castle, a couple small towns and a welcome LGBTQ addition to a notoriously straight genre.
For the 2020 list, click here.
‘Love Hard’ (2021)
Netflix’s attempt to massacre the Christmas rom-com genre strikes ever-so-hard with “Love Hard.”
Los Angeles-based romance columnist Natalie Bauer (Nina Dobrev) is wildly unlucky in love. She’s 30 and still single — a true tragedy. When her deranged coworker Kerry (Heather McMahan) suggests she up her dating app radius from five miles, Natalie inexplicably widens her reach to hit the entire country.
She matches with Josh Lin, a small-town New Yorker who’s everything she ever wanted. After a few days of chatting, she decides to fly to his town to surprise him for Christmas.
When she arrives, she learns she’s been catfished. The real Josh Lin (Jimmy O. Yang) offers to help her get with Tag (Darren Barnet), the man whose pictures Josh had catfished her with — but will she fall for Josh anyway?
“Love Hard” is an all-around pitiful film. Natalie is an unlikeable main character and Dobrev (“The Vampire Diaries,” “Let’s Be Cops”) isn’t skilled enough to elevate her to a place of charisma.
It’s hard to feel sympathy for a woman who eagerly swiped right on a profile that said, “Looking for a woman who’s spontaneous and drama-free.” No wonder she got catfished.
Whether it’s Kerry pouring herself a glass of whiskey before answering a call from her sponsor, the psychological warfare at play with the catfishing or Natalie veering on the side of stalker by flying across the country for a man she doesn’t know, the film is unhinged.
Yang (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “Patriots Day”) delivers a charming performance, but his character’s catfishing origin is too disturbing to recover from. The film has an icky feeling throughout and reeks of sheer misogyny.
No one needed another “nerd gets the girl” flick. Catfishing isn’t cute, and Natalie wouldn’t be shallow to think Josh is a weird loser. Alas, the film exists in a reality where Josh is seen as more of a victim than her.
It’s not romantic and it’s hardly a comedy. At least it’s captivating (like a hostage situation).
“A Castle for Christmas” (2021)
“A Castle for Christmas” follows a recently divorced woman on a journey to finding herself (a new man).
When renowned romance author Sophie Brown (Brooke Shields) kills off the male love interest in her fictional “Emma Gale” book series, fans (including a wasted cameo from Drew Barrymore) revolt, leading her to retreat to a Scottish castle her father once lived in for some rest and relaxation.
There, she meets an eclectic swath of local women — who, for whatever reason, are the only people who enjoyed Sophie’s latest novel — and a cynical duke, Myles (Cary Elwes). Sophie and Myles bicker. They battle. They bond.
But they don’t have chemistry. And he looks like an elf.
When Sophie hears the castle is being sold, she offers to buy it as though it’s a purchase as insignificant as an iced latte. Recharged by renewing her Scottish heritage, Sophie finds inspiration for a new love story — both for herself and her fans.
The film is insipid and uninspired, but an endearing performance from Shields (“The Blue Lagoon,” “Suddenly Susan”) raises the watchability.
Sophie’s agent scolds her halfway through the film, “You can’t just run off to Scotland and hide out in a castle,” to which Sophie replies, “Why not?” That about sums up the film.
It’s a Forever 21 purchase. Use once and discard — it’s no staple of any rotation.
“Single All the Way” (2021)
With “Single All the Way,” Netflix leapfrogged Hallmark to deliver a gay Christmas rom-com.
Michael Urie (“Ugly Betty,” “Younger”) stars as Peter, a Los Angeles social media strategist who thinks he’s finally met the one, only to find out his boyfriend is married to a woman. Devastated, he brings his roommate Nick (Philemon Chambers) home for the holidays for support.
Peter’s mom Carole (Kathy Najimy) — under her seasonal pseudonym Christmas Carole — decides to set him up with a personal trainer James (Luke Macfarlane).
Antics ensue as Peter’s entire extended family try to get him and Nick to see they’re in love with each other, all in the spirit of Christmas. The film toes the line of campy, cutesy and chaotic, delivering a strong mix of zany comedy and holiday warmth.
Najimy (“Hocus Pocus,” “Sister Act”) lights up the screen with every effervescent line. She knows exactly what beats to hit and elevates “Single All the Way” from seeming like made-for-TV fodder.
The film doesn’t take itself seriously, bringing in certified LGBTQ ally and icon Jennifer Coolidge (“Legally Blonde,” “American Pie”) as sassy Aunt Sandy.
From lines such as, “HGTV? What is that, the homosexual gay network?” and “I’m reading this great book. It’s called ‘Loving Your LGBTTT Child,’” the film has a palpable, fast-paced energy.
It’s unabashed fun and utilizes the small town Christmas atmosphere in superb fashion. And it’s a small town in New Hampshire, because how else would this entire extended family be so welcoming of the gays?
“Single All the Way” is outlandish in a purposeful way, contrasting some of Netflix’s offerings that are off-the-wall simply to be unique. It’s the closest thing to a homerun paint-by-numbers Netflix rom-com.