Leighton Meester and Robbie Amell play ex-fiancés in a war to win the title of best ex in Amazon Freevee’s upcoming holiday movie “EXmas,” lending itself to the battle of the sexes themes found in 1930s and ’40s screwball comedies.
“I thought the idea of two exes under one roof really was reminiscent of the films I’ve loved recently, whether it’s a movie like a ‘Bringing Up Baby,’ ‘The Lady Eve’ or ‘The Philadelphia Story,’” director Jonah Feingold told TheWrap, jokingly adding that he “tricked” Freevee and Buzzfeed into making a Cary Grant-esque movie.
In “EXmas,” which is now streaming on Amazon Freevee, exes Ali (Meester) and Graham (Amell) find themselves stuck in the same house after Graham’s family invites Ali for the holidays after Graham tells them he’ll be stuck at work for Christmas. When Graham surprises his family, he’s shocked to see Ali — and the pair make a bet on whether the family will kick Ali out by Christmas.
While their bet — and residual impacts of their breakup — prompts all sorts of schemes and sabotage from both Graham and Ali, Feingold took inspiration from Pixar’s “Up” to weave together the former couple’s more joyful moments. The hope: that the audience will root for the characters to sort out their differences.
“I thought it was important that the audience understand that they were together, and happily together at one point,” Feingold said. “As an audience, you’re like, ‘Oh, I like this couple, they’ve got a little chemistry,’ and then I take that away and tell you, they break up.”
With Graham and Ali in such a tense place, Ali’s driving factor to spend the holidays with her former (almost) in-laws came from an outpouring of kindness — and a guarantee that her ex would not be present — from Graham’s family, who welcomed Ali as their own with her mom out of the picture and her father’s erratic dating life.
“When you’re that nice, it would drive you to do something as bold as showing up to [your ex’s] house during the holiday, especially if they invite you,” Feingold said.
Once Graham and Ali make their bet, the battle is on as the former lovers sabotage each other using every means possible to make a bad impression on his family, from Graham setting up a game night to show off Ali’s competitive side to Ali setting up Graham for an overflowing toilet.
In one moment of scheming during a holiday party with barn animals, Graham slips some goat treats into Ali’s pocket, prompting her worst nightmare: for the goat to come at her. During filming, however, Meester and the goat got on well, according to Feingold. The scene required several takes, as the goat didn’t want to attack Meester.
Despite a handful of comical moments between Ali and Graham, Feingold revealed he was less drawn to the pranks in “EXmas” and was more compelled by the “real conversations” the former flames share about the cracks in their relationship from the start that led to their eventual separation.
“As many funny, wacky scenes as there are, I wanted it to feel grounded,” he said. “I think a lot of people and audiences want realism — they want to connect with characters, even when it’s in a fantastical Christmas comedy.”
As Christmas movie lovers watch “EXmas,” Feingold hopes viewers are prompted to think about the scenario of being stuck under one roof with your ex over the holidays — even if the premise makes them uncomfortable.
“It’s really just about sitting down with your family, an ex, a partner or a sibling during the holidays and putting the movie on the TV and letting it be part of your Christmas energy,” he said.
“EXmas” is now streaming on Amazon Freevee.