The Hallmark Channel’s first gay-centered Christmas movie, “The Holiday Sitter,” may prompt cynics to say the company is answering the criticism they have received about the lack of LGBTQ representation in the past and about removing advertisements featuring same-sex couples. But in this season of giving, romantics can be forgiving.
This glossy new TV movie, now available to stream on Peacock, is a cute romcom that plays up well-known tropes — a fish out of water/city slicker going to the suburbs, a clueless bachelor caring for his niece and nephew and appreciating family, and the unexpected feelings he develops for the literal boy next door. Only a grinch could fault it for adhering to a well-worn holiday formula.
Sam (out gay actor Jonathan Bennett, who also produced) manages the financial affairs for wealthy clients and never makes it to a second date with guys. He tends to find a reason to run from prospects — especially if they mention kids. Just as he is planning to spend Christmas alone in Hawaii to relax, his sister Kathleen (Chelsea Hobbs) calls needing someone to care for her kids while she and her husband Nate (Matthew James Dowden) pick up the baby they are adopting. They promise to be home by Christmas. (Cue threatening snowstorm.)
Sam reluctantly agrees to sit for his 13-year-old nephew, Miles (Everett Andres) and pre-teen niece Dania (Mila Morgan). Although Kathleen provides an “unnervingly thorough schedule” Sam fails to make pancakes for the kids, calling on Jason (George Krissa), Kathleen’s adorable neighbor, to help appease the hungry children. (There is an unfunny running joke about Sam nearly burning down Kathleen’s kitchen when he last tried to cook at his sister’s.) Grateful for the assistance, Sam develops a plan to pay Jason for his help as an “uncle consultant” with the kids, a win-win deal, which also contrives ways for them to spend more time together.
Jason is not just soap opera star handsome — he is gay (Jason acknowledging Sam’s Rossini loafers is a tell) and single (he recently returned home from LA, unattached). Jason is also looking to adopt, wanting children even if no man he has met is ready to commit.
Sam and Jason are attractive opposites, and they do spark some nice chemistry after Sam stops his pratfalling — Bennett’s comic mugging is a bit overdone — and gets more comfortable with Jason. They even hold hands from time to time as they bond wrapping presents or attend a Christmas show Miles is in. Of course, the obstacle to their happiness is that Sam is looking to head out to Hawaii at first opportunity, and Jason is not sure he wants to be with someone who doesn’t want kids. The film does not overplay these concerns in part because watching their relationship develop — with each character expressing anxiety about it — is sweet, however predictable it is. And while it is nice that there are no concerns from anyone that the characters are gay, it might have been nice for Miles and Dania to comment on this to emphasize such acceptance.
The film is meant to get viewers in the holiday mood, with every scene featuring snow or festive decorations, and one sequence unfolding at a Christmas village to maintain the seasonal spirit as the characters find meaning in their lives.
But the most warmhearted scenes involve Sam helping Miles gain his confidence for the play he is in. As Sam offers life lessons to his nephew or comforts his niece who is concerned about her parents missing Christmas, he shows he can be a good parent — a quality that endears him to Jason.
A later scene has the men painting the baby’s room. As Jason talks about his desire for a family and the men that run from him, Sam’s heart melts a little, because as a guy who runs, he may have found a reason to stay. Aww.
Bennett is best in the romantic moments, especially when he wants to tell Sam how he really feels but is afraid to risk his heart. Krissa simply dazzles whenever he flashes his megawatt smile. There are several scenes where the guys seem to be about to kiss but get interrupted by others, prolonging the tension of them coupling up, but this is par for the course with the genre. Still, the film could have used more scenes of the guys alone together or being affectionate.
One of the messages of “The Holiday Sitter” is to savor the moment, as when Kathleen holds her newborn daughter and decides to wait a beat before sharing the happy news. Likewise, Sam and Jason enjoy a special, romantic moment admiring the tree in a quiet house on Christmas Eve.
A charming Christmas movie for fans of the genre, “The Holiday Sitter” is as comforting as a cup of cocoa with extra marshmallows that provide a sugar rush. Hopefully, the Hallmark Channel will make more and more queer romcoms like this.