Movie Review: The Holiday

It would belittle a major film talent to suggest that Nancy Meyers writes chick flicks.

Her gentle, funny, heartfelt movies expand far beyond the constricting bounds of that glib genre title.

Just look at her track record: ‘What Women Want,’ ‘Something’s Gotta Give,’ ‘The Parent Trap’ (1998), ‘Father of the Bride,’ ‘Baby Boom’ and many more. 

Films that touch both the heart and the funnybone.

Such a film is ‘The Holiday’ and in a season that celebrates the coming of the King of Peace with graphically bloody films on African genocide, Mafia violence and still beating human hearts torn from living bodies, how nice it is to find a sweet and elegant little film about love, passion and the joys of finding the right person.

The writer-director is aided in filling her joyful Christmas stocking by a superlative cast. In fact, looking at some of the scenes in this lighter than a Christmas ornament film, you wonder how they looked on paper – so many of them coast on the talents of her stars. 

Meyers wrote her twinkly script with this very group of superb farceurs in mind.

Iris (vulnerable Kate Winslet) is an appealing London journalist who has fallen for the wrong man (Rufus Sewell). He uses her talents (and occasionally her body) for his own means. Amanda (an appealing Cameron Diaz) is an LA based self-made maker of movie trailers, a neurotic whose business drive has alienated her boyfriend (Edward Burns).

In fact, one of Meyers more droll concepts is when Amanda finds herself in a trailer of her own life complete with the familiar breathy voiced announcer (Hal Douglas).

The two ladies left on their own for Christmas, and in desperate need to get away, meet on the internet and impulsively decide to swap homes.

In LA, Iris befriends an old time movie writer Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach). Wallach, now in his 90’s and still a canny scene stealer, was once the “Bad” in Eastwood’s ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.’

A strong bond grows between the two as he introduces her to Hollywood’s golden years.  She meets a likeable composer (the wry, self-deprecating and oh-so-cool, Jack Black) who has just been tossed by his actress girlfriend.  

In England, the lonely Amanda is confronted by Iris’ drunken brother (Jude Law) who blunders into his sister’s picture book cottage to pass out on the couch. The spark is immediate and they impulsively fall in bed with each other. 

There are recriminations, second thoughts, old boyfriends turn up and nothing here will come as much of a surprise. But in a Meyers movie getting there is all the fun and her cast has more chemistry than Monsanto.  

Myers is in no hurry to get to her comic hooks. She prefers to let her characters settle in so we can get to know them. These are not simple folks but sophisticated urban denizens who have been around the block a few times.

One of the strengths of the film is how they turn from their self-constructed brittleness and protective outer shells to rediscover the beating heart hidden deeply within.
At 131 minutes, the film feels a bit overlong and unwieldy but the length gives Meyers and her starry cast the chance to probe a little more deeply than you find in your average laugh-a-minute romantic comedy. 

If you wait for them the laughs and the occasional tear will come. 

Opens wide USA December 8. MPAA: Rated PG-13