Should I Watch..? The Holiday
What's the big deal?
The Holiday is a festive romantic comedy film released in 2006 and was written and directed by Nancy Meyers, the writer and director of Something's Gotta Give and It's Complicated. The film centres on two women on opposite sides of the Atlantic who arrange a house-swap in time for Christmas in order to get away from domestic unhappiness but who then find love in the other's location. The film features Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black in the lead roles with supporting appearances from Rufus Sewell, Eli Wallach and Edward Burns. Despite mixed reactions from the critics, the film went on to generate a global box office return of $205 million.
What's it about?
English journalist Iris Simpkins has her heart broken by the philandering Jasper Bloom who announces his engagement to another woman at the office Christmas party. In LA, workaholic trailer producer Amanda Woods discovers that her live-in boyfriend has also been carrying on with his much younger secretary and she promptly throws him out of her rather large mansion. Distraught and wanting to get away from such distractions, Amanda visits a home-swap website and sees Iris's profile talking about her quaint little cottage in Surrey, England. The two soon agree to swap homes for a fortnight with Amanda travelling to England and Iris flying out to the west coast of the US.
Quickly becoming bored in Iris' sleepy community, Amanda soon changes her mind when Iris' brother Graham pops around to visit his sister and is shocked to find Amanda there instead. Given their immediate chemistry, they quickly spend the night together. Meanwhile, Iris enjoys her time in LA after meeting retired screenwriter Arthur Abbott and a musician friend of Amanda's ex, Miles. But with Miles already seeing another woman and Arthur being way too old for her, can Iris also hope to find romance?
Maggie, Miles' girlfriend
Release Date (UK)
8th December, 2006
Christmas, Comedy, Romance
What's to like?
Although the comedy might feel as hackneyed as the premise, the film still manages to cram some genuine laughs out of the flimsy material. I especially liked the idea that England is full of picturesque villages full of snow-decked cottages and smoky chimneys at this time of year - trust me, as a certified Englisher, this couldn't be further from the truth! If it snows (and that's a big if), it's not likely to settle and if it did then nobody would be outside apart from kids on sledges pleased that their schools were closed for the day. I'm presuming Meyers didn't do too much research on this project, in this respect.
The other amusing aspect of the production I liked was how all four leads were completely shown up by the always-gratifying presence of Wallach in one of the strongest performances in the latter stages of his career. But generally speaking, the film is a tired slog through rom-com cliché and assuming that you love films like The Accidental Husband and 27 Dresses then you'll be in hog's heaven with The Holiday which combines the syrupy feel of a rom-com with the cloying sweetness of a Christmas movie. It may as well shove candy floss up your nose and a candy cane up your rear end.
- According to an interview they gave on British radio, indie band The Wombats were inspired to write the song "Kill The Director" after hating this movie so much. The lyrics include "If this is a rom-com, kill the director!" and "This is no Bridget Jones!"
- At one point in the film, Arthur mentions that actor Cary Grant came from Surrey - a fact that Iris agrees with him on. But he didn't. He actually came from Bristol instead.
- The movie was written specifically with the four leads in mind. Unbeknownst to Meyers when she wrote the film, Winslet and Sewell had once actually been in a romantic relationship.
What's not to like?
Oh, where do we start? Probably the biggest problem is Black who is hopelessly miscast and playing against type, despite playing a kooky musician. Black's usual persona is one of barely controlled rage or energy - think of him in films like Nacho Libre - but in The Holiday, he's as bland as a vanilla milkshake in a magnolia-coloured cup. I felt sorry for Winslet who has to feign romantic feelings for him when Diaz gets up, close and personal with the likes of Law. But in truth, I never gave the film much thought - none of the characters seemed likeable besides Wallach's irascible old screenwriter and the film's premise never really convinced me either.
Sadly, it also falls victim to the biggest problem with rom-coms - predictability. Even the term 'rom-com' now has connotations of being poorly written, unsurprising and about as radical as whistling in a library. The Holiday is no exception - besides the willing eagerness of Amanda to bed Graham without having the slightest clue who the hell he was, the film offers little to entertain, amuse or inspire. Diaz can throw a good hissy-fit when required, Winslet is a much better actress than this demands while poor Law has nothing to do besides look like English eye-candy for the ladies. Black has the most interesting character arc but his story is uninspired and, like the rest of the film, extremely predictable. I was more interested in Wallach's story but that only really seems to extend the movie's already excessive running time.
Should I watch it?
The Holiday is like a snowflake - fluffy and nice to look at but as soon as it lands, it quickly fades and blends into every other snowflake visible. If rom-coms are your thing then you might enjoy this festive frolic through the usual misunderstandings, seeing as the movie is kind enough to give you two intertwined stories for the price of one. For the rest of you, this cynical picture will evoke memories of much better films than this - I've had more fun in two hours with a leaking snow-globe than I had with this.
Great For: rom-com fans, Americans wanting to visit "little England", date nights, Christmas viewing
Not So Great For: viewing at any other time of the year, English viewers, bored partners
What else should I watch?
If you want a decent rom-com featuring the English (because, face it, we seem to do them better than anybody) then you only need to find Richard Curtis who has carved out his own little niche in British cinema ever since Four Weddings And A Funeral. He repeated the trick with Hugh Grant in Notting Hill by having him form a relationship with another good-looking American woman (Julia Roberts this time instead of Andie MacDowell) and even introduced the festive spirit into the rom-com formula alongside Grant again in the cult classic Love Actually.
As I've suggested, rom-coms are broadly dismissed by many people as being either poor films or that most dismissive of terms, a chick-flick. But the fact remains that these films are produced in large numbers for relatively little outlay and a good number don't stack up as well as they might. Stay away from the likes of 27 Dresses, The Accidental Husband or the disastrous sequel to Bridget Jones' Diary, The Edge Of Reason which is proof that even us Brits can cock it up sometimes.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox