WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: Two thirty-something women attempt to get over personal troubles by swapping homes for a fortnight over Christmas, an uptight movie trailer-maker in a swanky Hollywood Hills house crossing over with a despondent newspaper journalist and her cosy semi-rural cottage. Both find that the change in culture does them good, and amazingly both meet up with people who will profoundly change their lives.
Fans of transatlantic romance such as Notting Hill, Two Weeks Notice, Mickey Blue Eyes – most of Hugh Grant’s output, essentially – have two chances to be enraptured by Nancy Meyers’ The Holiday, offering as it does two connected stories of love stretching across the pond.
Iris (Kate Winslet) is a reporter carrying a torch for sometime lover and full-time dangler Jasper Bloom (Rufus Sewell). When she finds out that Jasper is engaged to a colleague she is devastated and flees London to cry her eyes out in her pretty countryside cottage; but fate intervenes when feisty film-trailer-maker Amanda (Cameron Diaz) – herself reeling from the discovery of an affair being conducted by her sleazy, sexually-dissatisfied boyfriend – contacts Iris via a website and suggests a house-swap over Christmas to get a change of scenery. The two act impetuously and before they know it find themselves in each others’ dwellings and facing culture clashes head-on: Iris is ecstatic with the pools, warmth and technology in Amanda’s home, whilst the American finds the cold, remoteness and left-handed driving of an English winter harder to cope with.
In fact, she doesn’t cope at all and resolves to take the first plane back home, until Iris’ brother Graham (Jude Law) stops by with the intent of crashing on the sofa and ends up in bed with Amanda and not the least bit sexually dissatisfied. Graham, all bumbling politeness, is a self-effacing charmer who gives Amanda a reason to stay in England, but his life is complicated by mysterious phone calls from ‘Sophie’ and ‘Olivia’. Meanwhile, Iris strikes up a friendship with celebrated but reclusive screenwriter Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach) and meets Miles (Jack Black), a score composer who has his own relationship issues with sulky actress Maggie (Shannyn Sossamon). As Iris cheers Arthur up and persuades him to consent to an evening held in his honour, Miles is also cheered by spending time with the intriguing Englishwoman. But is Jasper completely out of the picture? And with Hollywood calling Amanda back home, is there any future for her with Graham and his ‘complications’?
Whatever else a rom-com may or may not have, the one thing it must create in the viewer is a belief in the characters and for us to care for their happiness; and it is in this that The Holiday fails most miserably. Possibly sensing that Amanda’s pretty fabulous lifestyle doesn’t make her instantly sympathetic (she even thinks of her own life in terms of trailer voiceovers), Meyers lumbers her with an inability to cry brought on by her parents’ divorce when she was 15 (an age, surely, when most children couldn’t care less what their parents are doing) which entirely fails to soften her self-serving personality. There’s nothing essentially wrong with her facile coupling with Graham, but the film then tries to build a plot out his secretiveness when in fact the ‘secret’ is simultaneously mundane and contrived (he’s a widower with two girls and for no good reason likes to keep his family and romancing lives apart) – surely someone as forthright as Amanda would just ask who Sophie and Olivia were? Their happy ending is all well and good but you have to be in a particularly generous frame of mind to consider that they remotely deserve it.
Iris’s journey, meanwhile, is little short of horrendous. Winslet is always a terrifically naturalistic actress, and whilst she’s not a complete stranger to comedy (as her notorious appearance in Extras proves) she obviously does not intuitively feel the half-clumsy, half-sad role of Iris. Although the script calls for her to feel an attraction to Miles, her eyes betray the fact that she would gladly run in front of a speeding bus to quickly get away from him, something that can be put down to the absurd casting of Black as Iris’s subdued would-be suitor. Her doddery old friend Arthur, therefore, exists for two reasons: firstly, to fill Iris’ time in Los Angeles (since there’s clearly no mileage, excuse the pun, in her relationship with Miles); and secondly, to pass on some of Meyers’ personal and seemingly bitter observations on modern film-making (Arthur’s rant about opening weekends is particularly barbed). It says a lot for the spark Wallach puts into the role that despite him merely being Meyers’ mouthpiece for the rom-com exploits in play (he explains to Iris about the ‘meet-cute’), he is by far the most attractive character in the film.
Then there are specific irritations for the British viewer. Firstly, there is the way Diaz says ‘Graham’ as ‘Gram’, rather than the ‘Gray-um’ the British are used to (just choose a less difficult character name!); secondly, there’s the curious topography of Iris’s cottage, close enough to walk to a train station for commuting to London, and the pub, but too remote for a big car to drive up to (except at the end); and since Amanda walks to Graham’s place, isn’t his house close enough for him to walk home to in the first place? It’s all very confusing, and that’s without the lazy product placement or details that are casually altered for no good reason, such as Cary Grant’s birthplace – if Bristol ever was in Surrey (which I very much doubt), it ain’t there now.
The star power of The Holiday ensures that it never falls completely flat on its face, and apart from Kate and Jack’s awkward scenes it’s rarely toe-curlingly horrible, just a very shallow movie that will make some chick-flick devotees go ‘aah’ but will leave those with harder/more discerning hearts cold. Apart from Wallach, this is definitely ‘one for the money’ for all concerned.