The Reeler


December 8, 2006

The Holiday

Studio cheese log's polished charms can't overcome paint-by-numbers plot

Nancy Meyers has a knack for getting heavy-hitters to fight well below their weight in the aggressively sleek, light-as-chardonnay romantic comedies she turns out every few years. "Fight" is the operative word, as her stars, from Mel Gibson in What Women Want to Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give, wage a very visible struggle not to look awkward as they fold into the darling boxes Meyers lays out for them. The celebrity stakes seem to get a little higher every time, as though Meyers, a popcorny, athletically mainstream filmmaker, is determined to prove a point, and this time it goes: there’s no way I could mess up a movie with Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, and Cameron Diaz, right?

After all, a solid, warm-hearted, holiday ensemble picture is a simple, not necessarily guilty pleasure (who’s keeping count at this time of year, anyway), and The Holiday certainly aims to please. 2003's Love, Actually, proved that an unabashedly mushy holiday film needn’t be a total embarrassment, just as Bridget Jones' Diary insisted that a chick flick had every right to across-the-board appeal. The Holiday wants quite badly to have that same crossover cachet, and the story is tucked and trimmed in all the right places, with little room for error. That, of course, is the problem.

Cameron Diaz is painfully shrill as Amanda Woods, a successful movie trailer producer in desperate need of emotional Grape Nuts; she dumps her cheating boyfriend (Edward Burns) without a tear, then trolls the interbunny for a Christmas escape, as though a Hollywood badass like herself doesn’t already have a timeshare in the Maldives. Kate Winslet plays Iris Simpkins, sloppy yin to Amanda’s precise yang, a London newspaper reporter who can’t stop crying when her ex (Rufus Sewell), an emotional vampire with a sleeper hold on Iris’s self-esteem, gets engaged to another woman. The two find some very common ground (men suck!) in an IM session, and in short order a two-week apartment swap is made: dowdy Iris ends up in a bangin' Brentwood mansion while tight-ass Amanda finds herself in a country cottage and an epic clash of the cheekbones with Iris's semi-sleazy brother Graham (Jude Law). They say love will come the second you stop looking, and for Iris and Amanda, it's close; within a few hours of each one touching down, new fishes are on the hook.

Iris is thoroughly pleased with her lot in the exchange, and the brand-conscious, fetishistic gimme-gimme glee so integral to the chick flick (as with chick lit) takes place largely on Amanda's turf. Tempering the slickness is Iris's encounter with her neighbor Arthur, an old screenwriter who turns her onto classical Hollywood heroines like Barbara Stanwyk in the hopes that Iris may pick up a trick or two. Thank God for Eli Wallach, who, as Arthur, offsets Winslet's barely believable shipwreck of a woman with the ballast of age and experience. Meanwhile, Jack Black plays Miles, a composer who meets cute with Iris just before his chiseled actress girlfriend is caught chiseling someone else.

Diaz improves over the course of the film, finally dropping her stale, cutie-pie fluffery and showing signs of real chemistry with the Petri-dish perfect Law, who can out-coquette her seven days a week anyway. With the exception of being asked to say "It’s all good," Winslet passes through the Meyers factory basically intact, though it is jarring to see her working on this level; call me unreasonable, or just accustomed, but I want to see Kate naked and peeing herself when she’s cracking up, not having hand-wringing emotional breakthroughs set to smooth jazz. The Holiday certainly takes its time, which is refreshing, in a way; without the bingo-bango pace you feel like slightly less of a chump for playing along and can almost settle into the idea that actual relationships are developing. Ultimately, however, the relaxed feel lapses into plain old lax. Meyers gives it an honest shot, but she can’t distract from a paint-by-numbers plot just by having us watch it dry.

Advertise on The Reeler

Comments (1)

Does anyone know what the name is of the song Jack is playing for Kate?

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Search The Reeler
Join the Mailing List

RSS Feed


Send a Tip