I’ll be Homo for Christmas
Gay people have long advocated for equality. We should have been more specific.
Ah, the holidays. A time to listen to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” a minimum of twenty times a day, spend hours at an outlet mall just to find a parking space, and of course, spend time with your family. Ugh, why do we do this again?
Don’t get me wrong; I generally love the season. I’m a sucker for a Christmas tune, and I thrill at the first snowfall of the year. However, one holiday tradition that had eluded me until this year was the annual onslaught of cheesy holiday-themed rom-coms that are released in a frenzy each December. This holiday season, Candace Cameron Bure (best known for Full House and the particular brand of smug condescension perfected by Republicans disguised as evangelical Christians) made headlines when she announced a move from the Hallmark Channel (undisputed king of the holiday rom-com) to her new network, Great American Family, where she’s not only an actress but holds an executive position. She took time to especially note that her new home of gingerbread-flavored pablum would feature people “of all ethnicities,” but will “focus on traditional families.” To those well-versed the linguistic traditions of bigots who don’t want anyone to know they’re bigots, that phrase translates easily into “I’m a good, good person who really hates gay people.”
But it doesn’t seem as though Hallmark will miss her overmuch. Just as Bure was fending off backlash from Full House co-star Jodie Sweetin, actress Hilarie Burton, and the world’s cutest lesbian JoJo Siwa, Hallmark premiered a new holiday-themed romantic comedy called The Holiday Sitter, the first film of its genre to place a gay couple at its sweet, gooey center.
I was invited to the home of two friends to watch its premiere on the evening of December 11. I was admittedly more excited about seeing my friends (it had been a while) than I was about seeing the film. At the same time, I was curious — both to see my very first Hallmark Christmas movie, but also to see how gay people fit into this world.
One of these friends, we’ll call him Blitzen, was very excited to see The Holiday Sitter. A longtime fan of the genre, and of sweetness and goo in general, he looked upon the event as truly historic. His boyfriend, let’s just call him Ebenezer, was significantly less enthusiastic, and I had good reason to believe that I was only invited over in the hopes that my cynicism would balance out Blitzen’s zeal — like a shot of whiskey in the egg nog.
Our story opens in New York City, that soulless den of Grinchiness, where our hero Sam (Jonathan Bennett, Mean Girls) is on a date with a handsome blonde man whose name I cannot recall — but he seems nice enough. As we listen in on the awkward banter, the date mentions his fervent wish to be a parent someday, which is not the life journey Sam had planned for himself. And you know what? Valid choice, Sam. Nothing against those who want to raise children, but it’s not for everyone — including the clear majority of gay people. And as Jerry Seinfeld used to say, there’s nothing wrong with that. And if that weren’t enough to cancel any hopes of a future between these two in matching holiday sweaters, Sam delivers the death knell when he announces that he plans to spend his own goddamn money to take himself on vacation to Hawaii for the Christmas holiday. Honestly, you’d have thought he planned to murder Santa and his elves in their sleep or something.
Cut to the office, where Sam’s lesbian colleague at an elite financial planning firm (your third clue in the Hallmark-verse that Sam is a monster) announces that she’s getting married, and bemoans the fact that Sam is alone and his life is therefore a waste. We barely see her again, so apparently she’s just there to make single people feel shitty before she’s headed home to her future wife, leaving poor Sam in a puddle of ennui. Poor, unloved, unworthy Sam.
Sam doesn’t have much time to mope, however. His bags are packed and he’s ready to go. It’s off to Hawaii, where one hopes he’ll book a suite at the White Lotus where he can get up to naked shenanigans with Murray Bartlett in the General Manager’s office. Sadly, neither Sam nor his margarita glass are going to get rimmed anytime soon — because just as he’s about to leave his apartment, he gets a call from his sister.
It turns out that his sister lives in one of the holiday postcard suburbs the Hallmark Channel is known for, where the snow that stays on the ground all year is never dirty even though you hardly ever see it actually snowing, and all the coffee shops are independent small businesses, owned by beautiful people whose blindingly white teeth have never touched coffee. Anyway, she and her husband are adopting their third child, and the birth mother went into early labor, and she needs a babysitter for her two older kids. Because of the proximity to the holiday, everyone else is busy. Including Sam, I want to scream — but he’s gay and childless and single, and his holiday plans are therefore expendable, I guess. So, now he’s off to Pineville or Yuletown or Peppermintstickmochaburg, or whatever the hell this place is called.
Upon arrival, his brother and sister have already skipped town, but that’s okay. The kids are being minded by Jason (George Krissa), the sexy, single, also gay renovation contractor who lives right next door. Gee, do you think sparks will fly? We’re on THE EDGE OF OUR SEAT, kids.
As the backstory begins to creep in, we learn that Sam’s ignorance of all things domestic, particularly involving the kitchen, is legend in this family. So, the morning after his arrival, he asks Jason if he’ll help him with all the domestic stuff he’s spent his entire adult life paying someone else to do. And you know what? Another valid choice.
From there, we get to know the kids a bit better. Miles is an awkward kid whose got a crush on a girl who is starring in the local Christmas pageant that is in desperate need of a new narrator to save the day. Gosh, if only a gay uncle were nearby to … ooooh, wait; I think I see where this is going. Dania, the younger sister, is less obviously troubled. She didn’t seem very excited about the prospect of a baby sibling, which is a cardinal sin in the Hallmark Cinematic Universe, but she’s a whiz at the jaunty carnival games at the local Christmas Village/theme park thing, which wins her zillions of little stuffed toys and provides a good excuse for her hapless uncle to be as lacking in athletic ability as he is in his sister’s HGTV-ready kitchen. So, whether you traffic in toxic masculinity or offensively broad gay stereotypes, he’s more or less a complete failure at life, and can only go up from here.
Jason, the hunky neighbor, on the other hand, seems to have all the heteronormative boxes checked. He has perfect teeth, and surely there are some chiseled pectorals underneath that family-friendly cozy sweater (hint: there are). As his backstory is revealed, we learn that he once lived in a big city, too; but he found the whole experience a dystopian, soul-killing nightmare, so he moved back home to live in a Norman Rockwell painting with his 18 nieces and nephews, which is great, but he despairs of ever meeting a man of substance. (By the way, according to this movie, a man of substance is not someone who goes to the gym a lot; like most romantic comedies on Hallmark or elsewhere, everyone in this universe appears to be physically perfect without ever having to work very hard at it.) So, he’s doing what any lonely gay hunk would do — no, not Grindr! He’s contracted with Sam’s sister’s adoption agency to have his own children, because any other life would naturally be devoid of meaning.
Despite having very different futures in mind, there’s an undeniable attraction between Sam and Jason. There’s a moment when they’re making Santa-shaped pancakes for the kiddos, complete with beards made of frothy whipped cream, when the erotic tension really hits its peak, and I am absolutely not making that up and the less said about it the better, frankly. MOVING ON.
Before long, all the straight people in this movie are giving each other haughty side-eye glances at each other, aware of the sparks that are flying between Sam and Jason they are seemingly oblivious to, proving just how open-minded they are about the gays, so long as you’re the right kind of gay who looks, acts, and procreates just like a straight person.
Of course, Sam and Jason clue in eventually. There’s a very sweet scene on Christmas Eve, wherein the kids are asleep and Sam convinces Jason to turn off all the lights except the Christmas tree, and the two men hold hands and are about to lean in for some good old-fashioned tongue fencing when they are unceremoniously cock-blocked by the sudden arrival of Sam’s sister with a newborn baby in her arms, which is basically A PERFECT METAPHOR FOR THIS WHOLE MOVIE.
So basically, ten minutes or so before this thing wraps up, there are only three ways the story can go. 1) Sam and Jason realize that they have different goals in life, so they enjoy a quick hookup before going their separate ways. 2) Jason gives up his dreams of making Santa-shaped pancakes for his own children in his own modern kitchen tricked out to look like the kind of place pioneer women made soda bread in the old country and skips off to Hawaii with Sam, or 3) Sam stops being so goddamn selfish and settles down with Jason in a picture of domestic bliss.
Honestly, IRL, it would be Option 1 all the way. And that movie has been made before, but less on basic cable and more pay-per-view. It wasn’t going to happen here, and honestly that’s okay. We don’t do bittersweet at the Hallmark Channel. Sadly, nor do we ever abandon our cable-knit holly-laden winter paradise for anything so crass as Hawaii (which is as much an American state as Wisconsin or New Hampshire, but don’t tell that to the writers at Hallmark). So as much as I would have liked to have seen Option 2, spoiler alert: we all know it’s going to be Option 3.
Sam’s reversal comes in the form of a big teary monologue to his sister, all about how growing up gay he was led to believe that he didn’t deserve a family but the last three days (THREE!! DAYS!!) with Jason have proven to him that no other life would be worth living, and nothing would make him happier than eating the cost of his entire Hawaiian vacation to knock on Jason’s door and profess his undying love.
Needless to say, Blitzen loved it. As the credits rolled, he was hugging his blanket in what can only be described as a hyperglycemic episode. Meanwhile, Ebenezer and I were rolling our eyes so hard, we could see our brains. Was The Holiday Sitter a terrible film? Well, yes. In many ways, it was. But did it meet my expectations? Sure. It was the cinematic equivalent of that fruitcake that doesn’t actually have any fruit, but is filled with gumdrops or some shit, but I knew what I was getting into.
Obviously, I — a single, childless, urban gay — am not the target audience for these movies. Holiday rom-coms are made for stay-at-home moms who are looking for both an escape from their lives (hence all the perfect teeth and curated interior décor) and a validation of their life choices. I would have been pleasantly surprised had the very first gay Hallmark Christmas movie had moved even a few inches away from the oppressively heteronormative algorithm, but I didn’t dare hope for it, and therefore wasn’t too disappointed. (Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if I learned that this script was about a single, childless urban woman named Samantha who ditched her vacation plans to babysit her sister’s kids and when Hallmark decided to air a gay movie at the last possible moment, they shortened her name, changed about five lines of dialogue, and started filming the next week.)
Do gay people deserve better? Absolutely.
But so do straight women. Straight women deserve to see a holiday rom-com about a woman who likes being the cool aunt but doesn’t want kids of her own and meets a hunky next-door neighbor who would make a great uncle and is willing to have a vasectomy if it means getting the girl. And maybe five years from now, we’ll be ready for a Hallmark Christmas movie about a woman who gets out of a toxic relationship with a gaslighting asshole and celebrates by drinking fruity cocktails with her girlfriends on a rooftop bar overlooking an urban landscape, because this is also a happy ending.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Make the Yuletide gay.