Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

For most sane people, the thought of a random encounter with an ex is too ghastly to comprehend. Jonah Feingold’s Christmas-season rom-com EXmas takes that one step further—not only do you have to see your ex, but you have to spend the season with them and your immediate family. Robbie Amell and Leighton Meester play ex-fiances that were once so connected, yet now six months after their relationship turned sour, have drifted apart. Trying to find a new normal after a breakup is difficult enough without clinging onto pieces of the other person. Much of the humor in EXmas naturally evolves from this strange place of conflict; the film questions whether love can be rekindled after being so forcefully stomped out the first time. Complemented by an excellent ensemble and a cheesy, comforting feeling evoking warm hot cocoa, EXmas elevates its Hallmark trappings by embracing cliche with open arms, and making sure the chemistry between actors can carry it across the finish line.

Baking fanatic Ally (Meester, Gossip Girl, The Roommate) and game designer Graham (Amell, The Babysitter, Upload) both seem aimless in the wake of their break-up. Revisiting important moments like their proposal via flashback sequences, EXmas invests us in these characters well before there’s even a glimmer of them getting back together. Christmas 2022 keeps popping up in Graham’s phone memories, forcing him to confront the fact that he won’t be seeing Ally this year. As the head game designer for Poof ‘N’ Puff, Graham’s deadline of Christmas day causes him to cancel on his family this year. His focus must be on the game alone if Graham hopes to keep the gig. Ally meanwhile has been chatting with Graham’s family for months, whether it be through Instagram stories, Wordle, or during study sessions over Zoom.

Graham’s cancellation temporarily devastates his parents (Michael Hitchcock, Kathryn Greenwood), both of whom are major Christmas-season fanatics. He gets a sudden change of heart, refusing to wallow in his sadness, and spontaneously shows up. To Graham’s shock, his ex-fiancé Ally is already there, cooking for his family! He can barely win them over on a normal day, and now Graham will be directly forced to compete with Ally for their attention. Christmas sweaters and game nights ensue—eventually, Ally and Graham begrudgingly make a bet. Only one can win over the favor of Graham’s family for good. By Christmas morning, the loser must leave, while the winner gets free reign over all holidays going forward. Ah yes, the age-old rom-com trope involving a bet expressly orchestrated to bring two lovebirds together.

As Feingold’s third feature, there is an effortless ease to the proceedings that can only come with time. EXmas may not be as meta as Dating & New York, or as classically Hollywood as At Midnight, but it still exudes holiday charms and sugary-sweet vibes of a different flavor. None of this would work even a fraction as well without Amell and Meester. Split screens show them together but separate, and even then their chemistry practically leaps from the screen. Edible-moaning, flooded toilets, and fear of goats color their scenario with a dash of relatable dark humor.

The adorable semi-sweet yearning at the core of EXmas will keep viewers coming back for more time and time again. In simply making a Christmas romantic comedy, the team has ensured that at the very least it will come up the next time the holiday rolls around. Heartwarming sentiment fits the season well, and EXmas has plenty of cheer to spare. Jewish filmmaker Jonah Feingold has officially crafted a trio of engaging romantic comedies—whatever path he decides to lead us down next, genre fans will want to quickly sign up for the journey.

Count down the days until EXmas when this throwback rom-com debuts exclusively for FreeVee subscribers on Friday, November 17th.

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