'Hacks' Is Not a Hack…It's Comedic Perfection
Deborah (Jean Smart) and Ava (Hannah Einbinder) are a delight to watch evolve, sometimes devolve, then evolve again.
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**This review contains spoilers.**
Back in the day, when there were MC rivalries, rappers would cut “answer” albums like the Roxanne Wars (Roxanne Shanté vs. The Real Roxanne). Fast forward to the beginning of this interminable “panoramic pandemonia” when the world was sipping “quarantinis” day and night, Timbaland and Swizz Beatz started a random IG DJ battle that morphed into a must-watch bona-fide mega phenom: Verzuz. These events squared off artists with similar styles like Erykah Badu vs. Jill Scott, Nelly vs. Ludacris, and Gladys Knight vs. Patti Labelle. Each round, the artists’ respective hits matched and measured against the other to pick a winner, often ending in just common appreciation for the other.
Where I’m going with this (if you’re wondering) is while watching Single All The Way, I began to postulate out loud to myself, “Is this Netflix’s ‘answer’ to Hulu’s Happiest Season? Hence, my off-brand Verzuz, we’ll call Verses (as in lines of prose, you know, since they’re scripts). And the winner is whichever film hits the most elements of a great rom-com. There won’t be millions of live viewers as I debate this with me, of course, but please feel free to cut your own “answer.”
The LGBTQ Holiday Rom-Com Battles: Happiest Season vs. Single All The Way
Round One: Two Lovable Leads
Both films are fresh takes on the Christmas rom-com with “lovable leads” representing the LGBTQ+ community. However, Single All The Way’s Peter (Michael Urie) and Nick (Philemon Chambers) edge out Happiest Season’s Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis). The distinction? We meet Peter watering his myriad “heartbreak” plants (one per failed relationship). Then the huggable Nick (whose eyes’ tinsel) and Emmett, his huggable dog, come home, and Nick and Peter banter back and forth about going or not going to this annual plaid holiday shindig. It’s so obvious where they’re going and that we’re going along with them for the ride.
Meanwhile, Harper pulls Abby along a Christmas light walking tour while their hilarious guide (Michelle Buteau) drops knowledge about Christmas Trees’ destructive forces. In Harper, we get an early glimpse of a problematic self-focus when she interrupts Abby’s story about why she doesn’t like Christmas mid-sentence (which we find out later is because of the death of her parents). Harper then convinces Abby to trespass, and climb some random two-story roof to see the exact same lights, which ends with Abby falling onto an inflatable Santa, with, miraculously, no broken bones. But, also, no Harper to the rescue. So, Round One? Peter and Nick by a TKO.
Round Two: The Meet-Cute
Though the “meet-cutes” don’t happen on screen, we learn their origin stories. Peter and Nick reminisce about meeting in a gym, both new to the city, copping a “family discount” by pretending they were married. Blah Blah Blah. But Happiest Season wins this round for viewers who catch the opening credits. Shown, frame by frame is vintage Christmas card sketches of how Harper and Abby met, including their first date, kiss, game night with besties, and holidays with the final picture fading real-time into their present-day Christmas lights walk pre-fiasco. The drawings somehow magically capture the two-dimensional Harper’s and Abby’s chemistry, literally and figuratively.
Round Three: A Unique, Troublesome Situation
Now, this round is a draw. Harper lies to everyone, including her family and Abby, about being out, her lies twisting and unraveling at each turn, making this the un-Happiest Season. Peter’s problem begins when he learns his duplicitous cat-fishy boyfriend, Tim (Steve Lund), a heart surgeon, no less, is married to a woman (who, in an odd mashup, is wearing the same necklace Harper gave to Abby). As a Black woman, it was cool to see that Tim’s wife (Rachel Mutombo) was a Black woman, with a little side-eye for her having to be the character married to the cheating cheater.
In Single All The Way, Peter begs Nick to be his faux-boyfriend so his family won’t pity him for still being single. In his appeal, Peter reasons that Nick shouldn’t be alone for the holidays because of the recent loss of his mother. Now, this is a Harper-level move. If Peter was genuinely concerned about Nick, might he not have asked him to go home just on GP? And the kicker? Peter expects Nick to buy a last-minute, nearly $1000 airline ticket (I looked it up) from LA to New Hampshire and pay for it out of the book royalties Nick has been saving. The same Nick with a side gig as a “TaskRabbit.” Dude. And this ask is from the same Peter whose sister, Lisa (Jennifer Robertson), jokingly requested a Rolex for Christmas, which by my calculus means Peter can afford to, at least, pay half of Nick’s plane ticket. More on this later.
Round Four: At Least One Great Sidekick
Happiest Season takes Round Four by a landslide. Peter doesn’t have a sidekick unless we count Nick or the breakup plants he grows in his mini arboretum. But Abby’s sidekick, John (Dan Levy), is the bestie we all want to steal. He watches her animals at the last minute—even if a few might’ve met their maker in his care, it’s the thought that counts. John is Abby’s Becky (Rosie O’Donnell) in Sleepless In Seattle or Cheryl (Wendy Raquel Robinson) in Something New, who offers sage and strategic advice. For instance, he uttered one word, an emphatic “NO!” upon seeing the engagement ring Abby had purchased for Harper. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Round Five: Super Fun Montage
Single All The Way’s montage of Peter and Nick saving Aunt Sandy’s (Jennifer Coolidge) campy off-off-off Broadway play “Jesus H Christ ” from itself was fun. Quite frankly, it beat Happiest Season this round on the strength of featuring Whitney Houston’s “Joy To the World ” alone—as we watch Peter and Nick frolicking adorably on the set. But they could’ve phoned this round in because there was nary a frolick between Harper and Abby. Truthfully, they could’ve strung together all of Abby’s scenes with Riley (Aubrey Plaza), and Happiest Season would’ve had “another Love TKO“—and maybe win Verses altogether. But, we’ll never know. Or will we?
Round Six: Relationship in Jeopardy
Thus far, both movies are about neck-in-neck. Happiest Season redefines “it’s complicated” with one name: Riley. Sure, Clea Duvall never intended to match up Riley and Abby. Even after Harper rejects Abby for the umpteenth time, sending Abby to the karaoke bar with Riley and for some inexplicable reason (otherwise called a move), Riley moves onto the same side of the booth as Abby under the guise of watching the show. Seriously? And still, Abby gives Harper one more chance only to be left hanging (like on that roof) when Harper decides she’d rather hang out with her ex-boyfriend, Liam (Jake McDorman), sending Abby home alone. (Reason #101 for a breakup.)
Luckily, Nick and Peter never quite seemed to be in jeopardy of not coupling at some point. Peter’s mom, Christmas Carole (the wonderfully understated Kathy Najimy), tries her best (despite the trickery of her husband and grandkids) to set up a blind date for Peter and James (Luke MacFarlane). (Sidebar: Christmas Carole’s penchant for inspirational signs rival this son’s hilarious tour of his mother’s collection.) Thanks to the “we can’t take too much stress in our already stressful “apocalyptic-panini-life” gods, James was a righteous dude and pointed Peter back in the right direction. Though Single All The Way lost this round, it was a real win for viewers who just wanted a happily ever after romance without trauma.
Round Seven: The Lightbulb Moment
Another tie, though Harper’s lightbulb moment was probably just the white light seen after hitting your head, considering the knock-down-drag-out between her and her sister, Sloane (Alison Brie). A laser beam searing Harper’s pupils would’ve not given her an aha moment at the right time. But alas, after Abby has finally had it and jets, Harper tracks her down at a Love’s truck stop somewhere and makes a whole lotta promises. A lot.
The lightbulb moment in Single All The Way was anticlimactic and facilitated by James, who is everything you’d want in a date: attractive, kind, courteous, and patient. He was also the flashlight into Peter’s soul when he told Peter it was evident that he has “an undeniable connection” with Nick. And, to be honest, by this time James had probably secretly signed on with Peter’s talent agent friend to move to LA and cash in on his recent IG fashion model fame.
Round Eight: A Grand Gesture or Epic Line
Round Eight was a tossup because the leads were not the ones with memorable lines. There were no “put your lips together and blow” moments for Abby, Harper, Peter, or Nick. The most notable and touching lines came from John in Happiest Season, sharing his coming-out story with Abby to gain empathy for Harper. In one poignant moment, he offers, “Everybody’s story is different. There’s your version and my version and everything in between. But the one thing all of those stories have in common is that moment right before you say those words.” In Single All The Way, Peter’s mom adds depth to a light moment when she asks him, “Why are you so afraid to love?” And a quote that earns the Christmas Carole sign treatment is when Aunt Sandy says, “All the world’s a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”
Round Nine: Happy Ending
This round is the most straightforward; both films end with light music and happiness for all, even in Happiest Season; and, in Single All The Way, Nick and Peter finally admit their love for each other, but still nothing’s perfect. Again, Nick uses his royalties to pay for a storefront for Peter’s plant store–no business plan, no SWOT analysis–just more Nick-money thrown into Peter’s wants. Hopefully, their happily ever after includes Peter getting a job until his business gets off the ground and not spending all of Nick’s royalties. IJS.
A Few Fouls
Though both leads represent the LGBTQ+ community well as characters and actors, Single All the Way has its share of some of the same problems Happiest Season presented. For example, Nick glowed, capturing the eye and ear in every scene, and had good understated comic timing. But something was missing–could he be fleshed out a bit and by fleshed out meaning show some of his kinfolk. Maybe, as an idea, he attended a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and has a close roommate or fraternity brother that can give him advice?
Nick needs someone like Abby’s John to tell him, “No!” the next time he reaches into his royalties. At least get the second book sold first, and please do not fix another thing for Peter’s Dad (Barry Bostwick) even though he’s in your corner; he has plumber money. Peter’s family wrapped themselves around Nick in a beautiful way. Still, Nick gave entirely of himself, and it was not 100% reciprocated.
Single All The Way was fun and light fare, but it also played into some cliched and potentially offensive tropes, like the fact Nick might not be a handyperson because he’s gay. Or how often will we hear the ubiquitous and overused Oprah, “you get a car” reference or Guncle, which is cute only the very first time because a gay uncle is still the same as a straight uncle, right?
And The Winner Is…
It appears there is a Happiest Season sequel in the works. If anyone is listening, maybe call it Happier Season; and have Harper bring Abby home again, but this time, Riley shows up with her new girlfriend, which awakens some old feelings in Harper and Abby; and, thus the rom-com-dram begins.
All things equal, Single All The Way also meets the rom-com formula and exceeds expectations a bit because there are no closeted relationships. It was a fun movie to watch; quickly becoming a new film added to the holiday movie marathon tradition. And just in case there’s a sequel in the making, it might be cool to see Peter go home with Nick, but this time, Peter pays for the airline tickets from the successful coffers of all his succulents, fiddle-leaf, and peace lily sells.
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