© 2006 Ray Wong
Nancy Meyers is arguably the new queen of romantic comedy after her tremendous triple-threat (producer, director, writer) in blockbusters such as Something's Gotta Give and What Women Want. Her new film, The Holiday, seems like fluffy light comedy starring some of the world's most photogenic actors. The end product surprises me.
Iris (Winslet) is a reporter at a London newspaper living in a cute countryside cottage. Her love life comes to a shocking halt when her on-and-off boyfriend, Jaspers, announces his engagement to another woman. Meanwhile, Amanda (Diaz) is a successful film marketer living in a posh Los Angeles mansion. Her love life also goes nowhere when her latest relationship with film composer Ethan (Burns) ends with his philandering. Their lives intersect when they decide to swap houses for two weeks during Christmas to escape their own lives and, more precisely, men.
Iris instantly loves her new L.A. home, and with good reasons. Amanda, on the other hand, is bored to tears in a small England town and decides to return to Los Angeles -- that is, until Iris's handsome brother, Graham (Law), shows up at her door. Their initially casual relationship turns into something a bit more serious, confusing, and "complicated" as they put it. They know the relationship won't last but they can't seem to be able to tear themselves from each other.
Meanwhile, Iris is having a difficult time getting over Jasper and she sinks into depression, until she meets her neighbor, famous screenwriter Arther Abbott (Wallach). They form a cute bond and Iris seems to have a new direction in her life. Then film composer Miles (Black) shows up and their mutual attraction further confuses Iris.
As with any romantic comedies, the cast is attractive. Kate Winslet (Finding Neverland) is refreshingly girl-next-door. Her portrayal is the most layered, introspective, and despite her emotional problems, you can't help but root for her. Cameron Diaz (In Her Shoes) plays Amanda with broader strokes and less subtlety, and sometimes you can't decide if you like her or not.
Jude Law (All the King's Men) secures his leading man status with a dashing and sincere performance. His character, however, seems a bit too good to be true. And Jack Black (Nacho Libre) is the surprise here. You don't usually see him as a romantic lead but he pulls it off beautifully. It helps that his storyline doesn't rely on his sex appeal either. In fact, he and Winslet are so good together that I'm more interested in them than the "beautiful" pair in England.
The supporting cast is fine. Edward Burns (The Groomsmen) has a minor role as Diaz's cheating boyfriend. Rufus Sewell (The Illusionist) plays yet another "bad guy" with pizzaz. But the standout here is Eli Wallash (The Hoax): he steals the scenes right off everyone else with his sincere portrayal of the famed but withdrawn writer.
Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give) has created yet another knock-out script with The Holiday. Granted, the premise is silly and the early execution is a bit broad, making it hard to suspend our disbelief. But as the two leading ladies' journeys evolve, we come to really get into their shoes and care about them. There are some genuinely funny moments, but the film's more serious and gentle tone surprises me. I was expecting some laugh-out-loud situations. Instead, I am treated with some insightful takes on relationships. At times, it does feel a bit preachy, and you realize the swelling, uplifting music is going too start playing on cue. But Meyers saves these cheesy moments with some wonderful dialogue and interesting twists. There are obvious jabs at Hollywood's commercialism, and it's a bit ironic giving the intense marketing of this film.
The main draw to the film is the chemistry between the stars. Diaz and Law are so cute together you realize it really is a fantasy, but you want to believe it, because it feels good. Their "should we, shouldn't we" dilemma does get a bit tiring. In contrast, Winslet and Black are such an unlikely couple. Their relationship is more subtle and nuanced, but you just feel for them, and you want them to get together so badly because Meyers and the actors make you believe these characters belong to each other. The minor heartbreaks are truly touching.
The Holiday is two stories in one, and we get to have it both ways: the gorgeous fantasy love affair in picturesque England, and the down-to-earth "getting to know you" sweetness in sunny California. In the end, we have a feel-good movie about love (self-love, unconditional love, love between friends, love between strangers) that is a nice addition to the holiday season.
Stars: Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, Edward Burns, Rufus Sewell
Director: Nancy Meyers
Writers: Nancy Meyers
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and some language
Running Time: 138 minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 7.5 out of 10