Friday, January 24, 2014
The Holiday (2006) [PG-13] ***+
A film review by James Berardinelli for ReelViews.net.
The Holiday is no vacation. Sloppy writing, an overindulgent editor, and poor casting have taken an intriguing premise and transformed it into an uneven mess. The movie follows the lives of two women at Christmastime who trade houses. One story, while neither surprising nor groundbreaking, is moderately entertaining. The other feels like filler and ends up consuming about 45 minutes of the film's bloated 135-minute running time. The theory, I suppose, is that viewers get two romances for the price of one. In reality, one isn't always the loneliest number - sometimes it's the best fit.
With films like What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give, [and more recently It’s Complicated (2009) and The Intern (2015)] director Nancy Meyers has established herself as a filmmaker who aims squarely at the adult female demographic. In the past, however, her films have possessed a broad enough entertainment base to appeal to members of both sexes. The Holiday, however, is an inferior product. Sure, it addresses some interesting female issues, but it's way too long and plodding, the dialogue is a string of clichés, and the term overly familiar would be a kind way to describe the narrative. Thirty minutes into the movie (it takes that long to wade through the setup and figure out who all the characters are), you know with absolute certainty how things are going to end.
Although the premise is simple, it takes forever to get going. The movie spins its wheels for a half-hour establishing that British newspaper writer Iris (Kate Winslet) has been struck down with a bad case of unrequited love and that American movie marketer Amanda (Cameron Diaz) has lost part of her soul. Both need to get away for Christmas so, via a house-swap site on the Internet, they agree to switch domiciles for two weeks. Iris gets a swanky Beverly Hills pad, complete with a pool and eccentric neighbors like composer Miles (Jack Black) and Hollywood writing legend Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach). Amanda ends up with a picturesque Surrey cottage whose sole benefit is a nighttime visit by Iris' drunk brother, Graham (Jude Law). Of course, Iris is paired with Miles and Amanda hooks up with Graham.
The movie is free of anything resembling a surprise, which would be okay if the romances were appealing enough to captivate an audience. After all, some of the best romantic comedies are entirely predictable. Unfortunately, there are issues in The Holiday. The Cameron Diaz/Jude Law pairing is fine. There's a light connection between these two and we don't mind watching them fall in love while pretending they're not. Unfortunately, Kate Winslet doesn't fare as well. Her story appears to have been included as an afterthought. It lacks direction and cohesion. Jack Black is a disaster as a leading man; one can't take him seriously in a romance, and he includes off-the-wall moments of Black humor (humming theme songs at the top of his lungs in a video store) that take him completely out of character. As for Winslet's love affair, suffice it to say there's more chemistry between her and Eli Wallach than between her and Black. Viewers end up hoping for a May/December romance if only to spare her from having to melt into Black's embrace.
One of the biggest flaws with the movie is its failed attempt to interweave Iris' story with Amanda's. For those who aren't overly cynical, the latter tale exhibits a certain level of low-key magic. We care about the characters and would like to see them end up together. However, the constant cuts to Iris' Los Angeles experiences leave us stranded in a plot we couldn't care less about. Much as I like Winslet (and her acting in this film is of the highest caliber), she is let down by the writing here. Meyers is evidently a lot more interested in Amanda than Iris, and it shows in the screenplay. (Maybe this has something to do with identifying with Amanda, who is escaping from the Hollywood rat-race.)
The Holiday doesn't contain a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, although there is a hilarious sequence in which Iris conducts a three-way call (via call waiting) with Amanda and Graham. Jack Black's antics, although kept mostly in check, may cause a few of his fans to giggle, but I found them to be both out of place and unfunny. At this stage of his career, Black does not have the acting chops to play a straight role as his occasional slips into broad comedy prove. One can't help wonder how much more compelling Iris' story might have been with a different male lead.
The best that can be said about The Holiday is that it's the best of 2006's crop of Christmas-themed movies, but that's not high praise considering that the other contenders are The Santa Clause 3 and Deck the Halls. There are some good ideas here and some worthwhile scenes, but Meyers can't figure out how to streamline her chick-flick version of The Prince and the Pauper and the result is frustrating (because it could have been better) and annoying (because it isn't). For the most part, women will like The Holiday better than men, but it's hard to imagine anyone thinking of this as more than a romantic misfire. [Berardinelli’s rating: ** out of 4 stars]
Labels: christmas, comedy, cross-cultural, romance