There's a special bond between heartsick women. It may not be pretty, but it runs deep and spans continents. Though Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) live 6,000 miles apart and share little else in common—Iris is a neurotic wedding columnist who lives in a sleepy English village, Amanda is all control and California cool as a successful movie-trailer maker in L.A.—they make this connection almost instantly when they meet on a house-exchange vacation website.
Amanda's just kicked her cheating live-in boyfriend (Edward Burns) to the curb and, faced with the prospect of spending Christmas alone, starts Googling for ways to get away from it all. When she spots a picture of Iris's wondrously charming Rosehill Cottage nestled in the English countryside, she sends her a message. Iris has just watched her workplace ex, Jasper (Rufus Sewell), publicly announce his engagement. Considering this is a man she's still hopelessly in love with and who's been stringing her along ever since he cheated on her with "some girl" in circulation, she's ripe for a change of scenery herself.
Within the next day or so, Iris is giddily running from room to room in Amanda's expansive and sleekly appointed L.A. home, and Amanda is stocking up on wine and chocolates for a therapeutic Me Night in her cozy English home away from home. Though a main priority for both women seems to be hiding out from the world—especially from men—some friendly male locals happen into their hideaways and start to have the greatest healing effect.
Iris befriends her elderly neighbor, Arthur (Eli Wallach), whom she discovers used to be a famous Hollywood director. Their hours of conversation about love and film (some of the highlights of the movie) have a warming effect on both of these lonely souls. And then there's Miles (Jack Black), a friend of Amanda's ex, who occasionally pops by, bringing much-needed laughter and song.
Meanwhile, Amanda has discovered one of the dreamiest amenities of Rosehill Cottage—Iris's brother, Graham (Jude Law), who apparently crashes at sis's place whenever he's had a few too many at the local pub. In a rare surge of boldness (or something), Amanda seduces Graham, and the couple begins a whirlwind romance—and together, their stunning good looks threaten to upstage the breathtaking countryside. But it's only after a bit of a twist that their relationship truly becomes three-dimensional and interesting.
Romantic comedies—especially well done rom-coms—have been a bit of a dying breed in the past several years, when newer technologies have fueled the rise of action-adventure flicks and world events have spurred more Serious and Important Movies. Perhaps that's why it's so delightful to see The Holiday tucked amidst all the war and gore at the local cineplex. And this isn't just your by-the-number chick flick, with the requisite gay best friend for her and gross-out best friend for him, and every Mars and Venus cliché in the book. No, this is a grown-up chick flick. Think Bridget Jones' Diary or Notting Hill. This shouldn't come as a surprise, considering Nancy Meyers did the writing and directing. Though this isn't as meaty and insightful as her previous hits, What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give, it's still refreshingly fun and engaging.
The best performances are given by the romantic comedy newbies. Winslet and Law bring a gravitas to Iris and Graham that gives these characters needed believability and dimension. And it's so great to see Jack Black as a romantic lead, though it's tough to actually call him a lead for how stingy they are with his plotline. Still, he holds his own next to Winslet—which is saying a lot. Diaz gets better as the film progresses, but her opening breakup scene feels more like a choreographed dance than the painful end of a relationship. And while she seems more real as the films picks up speed, her character's transformation is the weakest.
It's interesting to note that all four romantic leads make a living sharing and/or shaping other people's stories. Iris is a wedding columnist, Amanda creates movie trailers, Graham is a book editor, and Miles composes movie scores. Even Iris's neighbor Arthur was a movie director. For all their skill and success at communicating other people's lives, they all falter when it comes to living out their own. Love ain't easy in a modern world, Meyers seems to be telling us, and only those who decide to stay open to new relationships anyway will have any chance at happiness.
It's also interesting to see how the male roles are handled in this modern love story. It would give away too much to talk specifics, but their "baggage" is more stereotypically female. However, these aren't the whiny, weak straight males we've seen far too often in recent films and TV shows (think Ray Romano). These guys are simultaneously flawed and strong, which makes them all the more real and likable.
Unfortunately, amidst this freshness and originality, there are a few common chick flick pitfalls: a few scenes that are too cute, plotlines you can see coming practically from the previews, a few unexplored and unanswered questions. Yet, Meyers seems to acknowledge at least the cuteness issue. She has Arthur explain a "meet cute" to Iris, as if to say, Yeah, we know we're doing it. But we're aware of it and we're trying to do it well. And in a later scene, Arthur gives Iris a corsage before a fancy event, offering a generation-gap disclaimer if she thinks it's too corny. "I like corny," Iris tells him as she puts the corsage on. And when it's intelligent, three-dimensional, full of heart, and delivered by a winning cast, so do we.Discussion starters
- Which of the four main characters do you most relate with? Why
- How does each woman change in her new environment? What prompts the change? Do you think this was the change she was seeking? Have you ever taken an escapist vacation? How did it change you
- What baggage does each of the four main characters bring into romantic relationships? How do they confront these issues throughout the course of the movie? Do you wrestle with any of these issues? If so, what can you do to change/heal
- Arthur tells Iris she needs to be the leading lady of her own story. Are you the leading lady/man of your story? If not, what can you do become that?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
The Holiday is rated PG-13 for sexual content and some strong language. The main concern is Amanda and Graham's relationship, which begins with a drunken hop in the sack. They add meaningful conversation and depth later, but not without taking off their clothes a few more times. All we see of the various stages of undress is Diaz in her bra in one scene. There are a few swear words. And people seem awful trusting of strangers they've met online, at their doorsteps, or in their neighborhoods. These days, that doesn't set the safest or wisest precedent.
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Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 12/14/06
The woman who directed What Women Want is thinking about that subject again in The Holiday. Nancy Meyers' movie stars Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, and Jack Black, a cast sure to make it a box office success.
But does this story have anything meaningful to say about love? According to Christian film critics, yes and no.
Camerin Courtney (Christianity Today Movies) says, " … [I]t's so delightful to see The Holiday tucked amidst all the war and gore at the local cineplex. And this isn't just your by-the-number chick flick, with the requisite gay best friend for her and gross-out best friend for him, and every Mars and Venus cliché in the book. No, this is a grown-up chick flick. … This shouldn't come as a surprise, considering Nancy Meyers did the writing and directing. Though this isn't as meaty and insightful as her previous hits, What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give, it's still refreshingly fun and engaging."
But she adds, "Unfortunately, amidst this freshness and originality, there are a few common chick flick pitfalls: a few scenes that are too cute, plotlines you can see coming practically from the previews, a few unexplored and unanswered questions."
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) calls it "a generally appealing romantic comedy. … [The director] has created some very sympathetic characters, and she elicits heartfelt performances from her cast. Refreshingly … there's a minimum of overt sexual content, a strong affirmation of family and concern for the elderly. Though there's a regrettable assumption … that it's acceptable to sleep together, the characters here show relative restraint, and in any case ultimately do the right thing."
Christa Banister (Crosswalk) says, " … [I]t's the great casting, not to mention an engaging storyline that makes The Holiday a step above most chick flicks. And even though Hollywood equates love with sex once again, there are still some relationship dynamics lessons that can be learned here."
Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) calls it "an unexpectedly inspired take on singleness in the 21st century. As Iris, Kate Winslet brilliantly offers a telling glimpse of the tragic depths those searching for love will go to receive it, even when they know it will soon fade away. Yet it's the follow-through on that insightful point that spoils the film—namely, the lax, completely postmodern take on sex."
During this Holiday, mainstream critics are not feeling very festive.