The Holiday (2006) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and some strong language
Running Time: 138 min.
Cast: Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, Rufus Sewell, Edward Burns, Molly Englefield, Emma Pritchard, Shannyn Sossamon, Sarah Parish, Lindsay Lohan (cameo), James Franco (cameo), Dustin Hoffman (cameo)
Director: Nancy Meyers
Screenplay: Nancy Meyers
Review published December 16, 2006
Part modern romantic comedy, part tribute to the Hollywood romances of yesteryear, The Holiday offers up nothing more than a feel-good holiday romance that's as pretty to look at as it is easy to digest. Of course, a concoction this sweet (almost to the point of being toxic) won't be to all tastes, as this one primarily aims its sights at the female audience, most of whom will enjoy the film for its aesthetic delights much more so than the feelings of romance at the heart of the film. Cute kids, cute dogs, cute houses, cute old men, cute clothes, cute restaurants -- there isn't a single aspect in the film that isn't presented in that "my, isn't that adorable!" chick flick tradition that will have women in the audiences pointing at the screen saying, "I want that!" much like I used to do when watching toy commercials as a child (OK, so I still do it).
In the film, two women from different continents, Iris (Winslet, Little Children) from England and Amanda (Diaz, In Her Shoes) from America, are disappointed by their respective boyfriends to the point where they just want to get away from their lives to be alone for a bit. It just so happens that they both join a web site that allows people to swap lives for a bit, with each person staying in the home of the other for two weeks while they vacation in a place they'd love to be, meeting people they don't know, and completely being able to forget themselves and the pain they feel, even if only for a temporary time. One thing they didn't count on is that they might fancy a bloke during that stay, as Iris encounters a film scorer (Black, Tenacious D) who is going through a similar bout of underappreciation, while Amanda meets Iris's handsome brother, Graham (Law, Closer), originally regarded as a no-strings fling, but who turns out to be more than just a handsome man in a time of need. With time running out on their vacations, the heart wants to continue getting to know the people they've newly met, while the head tells them to pull back from certain pain, knowing that at the end of it, they need to return to their own lives on the other side of the world.
Slick and polished, you expect nothing less from Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give, What Women Want), who has spent most of her career trying to rekindle the romance back into romantic comedies. Each character in the film is a member of the entertainment industry -- journalist, film composer, screenwriter, and trailer editor -- each commenting on what works and what doesn't, even in their own lives, pausing for moments of self-reflection on how they are in a romantic comedy of their own making. Meyers has stated that she had written each of the four lead roles with these particular actors in mnd, which might help explain why the film plays to their respective strengths. Perhaps the most curious casting is that of Jack Black, who is surprisingly subdued, yet still quite charming -- his role is the leanest, but he makes the most out of what could have been a forgettable secondary character.
If you've noticed the running time of the film, which stands at a sizable two hours and eighteen minutes, you will probably wonder why a romantic comedy, which are usually burdened with a great deal of filler, would need so much time to get where we all know it's going to go. Truth is, it doesn't -- a good portion of the film is devoted to a mostly superfluous subplot involving an elderly screenwriter (Wallach, Keeping the Faith) who ends up getting rehabilitated somewhat through his sudden friendship with Iris. I'm guessing that Meyers has used this character as part of her tribute to the screenwriters who came before, giving us all of the old romances that continue to enthrall audiences in a way that most modern films fail to do any more. It's a nice touch, and the scenes work well, but might have been better served in another movie entirely.
While I do think that the audience for which this film is intended will come away pleased, The Holiday does fall short in terms of leaving a lasting impression as anything more than a pleasant diversion for people who don't want to experience anything too heavy. Like many in the genre, the events of the film are predictable and contrived, but the actors do elevate the story emotionally -- we do end up caring about them enough to want a happy conclusion for them all.
As far as films go, this is a light, decadent confection heavy on the sweetness -- very tasty and enjoyable, but not likely to have you thinking about it once it is completely consumed. Like the many old-fashioned romances upon which Meyers draws inspiration, it is a bit corny, but as Iris remarks in the film, "I like corny. I'm looking for more corny in my life". It helps if you are as well.
©2006 Vince Leo