I agonized over how to rate this movie–probably a lot more than I should have. Yes, The Holiday is absolute piffle, but schmaltzy comfort films definitely occupy an important place in the world. Not everything needs to be A Passage to India or Hiroshima, Mon Amour, you know? At the same time, I have a dorky, analytical side that can’t be ignored. This movie commits a few unforgivable sins, but it also never pretends to strive for purity or perfection. So, when it comes to awarding those stars, should I be a softie or a cynic? By the end of this review, I think the answer will be clear.
As written and directed by Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give), The Holiday gets off to a creaky start: Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) are intelligent, successful, and attractive women who live in London and L.A., respectively. The former reports on high society for The Daily Telegraph, while the latter constructs movie trailers for Hollywood blockbusters. They’ve never met, but Meyers links the two by way of their romantic misadventures. Each woman is lost in a complicated relationship with a right proper bastard: Iris is hung up on Jasper (Rufus Sewell), even though he’s a gaslighting doofus who’s obviously with someone else. Amanda finally gives Ethan (Edward Burns) the heave-ho after he admits to cheating on her.
For most of the film’s first act, both women are wracked with grief and uncertainty. In her despair, Amanda stumbles onto an unconventional solution: A website offers customers the chance to swap lives for the duration of a vacation. And that means everything–cars, appliances, pets…they all get exchanged. It’s Freaky Friday, but with the bodies intact. Naturally, Amanda finds Iris’s tidy cottage on the site, and the two women get to chatting.
It’s here the movie falls into one of my all-time pet peeves: For nearly ten minutes, Iris and Amanda sit at their computers and clack away on the keyboards. We literally watch two people engage in an online chat, softly mumbling as they type. There’s nothing more boring in a movie, unless some director decides to show somebody growing peat moss or ice fishing for two hours. The Holiday ticks on for an outrageous 136 minutes, and a big reason is that Meyers carves out way too much time for crap like this.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler…hell, the poster gives it away: Amanda and Iris swap houses and lives over a long Christmas break. That means we get scenes of Amanda struggling with British clichés like driving on the left side of that road, and Iris marveling at the perpetually sunny gorgeousness of L.A. Right about now, Meyers commits another cinematic sin, albeit one that ties directly into the first. Over the course of several montages, we see Iris and Amanda dancing and singing around their new digs, and it goes on and on. (Side note: Maybe this movie is where the “Mr. Brightside” craze began. I enjoyed that song 300,000 plays ago. Now, I’d like to stuff it in a burlap bag and toss it in the river.)
As you might guess, our transatlantic heroines soon find some new potential boos. One night, Iris’s dashing brother Graham (Jude Law) stumbles to her cottage, looking for a place to crash. He and Amanda awkwardly banter into each other’s arms, emboldened by the knowledge that her stay in the country will be temporary. Meanwhile, Iris strikes up a friendship with Miles (Jack Black), quirky film score composer.
At this point, The Holiday manages to commit two sins at once: First, it takes Jack Black, then at the full peak of his School of Rock/Tenacious D prime, and neuters all the anarchic glee that could justify his offbeat casting. Miles feels like Black in a low gear, or a bland rock star for the masses. Undoubtedly, this contributes to the complete lack of chemistry between Black and Winslet, who generate as much heat as Donny and Marie Osmond. It’s as if Meyers doesn’t quite know how to build a dynamic between them, so she resorts to the blandest dialogue possible. Tellingly, Winslet actually forges a much more believable bond with Eli Wallach, who plays a Golden Age screenwriter she coaxes out of his brittle shell.
Diaz and Law do strike a few sparks as Amanda and Graham. They make a viable couple, as long you don’t think too much about him keeping a key detail of his life from her. Still, the movie works best when it focuses on their burgeoning relationship. Otherwise, The Holiday falls pretty flat.
By now, you might be thinking: “He’s spent this entire review flogging this movie with a horsewhip. Yet…there are three stars at the top of this review! What in the khaki-colored hell is up with that?!” Well, you’re not wrong. I’m just kooky that way. Movies like The Holiday are a bonafide weakness of mine. Plus, Meyers throws in an adorable little plot twist with the Jude Law character. It added a warm and welcome blanket to the romance between Graham and Amanda. Was it hokey and predictable? You can bet your bean casserole on it. Still got to me. So, am I a softie or a cynic? I think you now have all the information you need.
136 min. PG-13. Hulu.