Cute romantic comedy manages to do a few things right
Directed by Nancy Meyers
Cast: Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Jack Black
It’s no secret to more than casual observers that the mainstream Hollywood romantic comedy genre ran off the rails more than a decade ago, and has done little but spin its wheels in the intervening years. Some dedicated romantic cynics calculate that 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle was the last great RomCom Hollywood produced. Looking over the past few years’ worth of offerings--Picture Perfect, Serendipity, Maid In Manhattan, The Wedding Planner, Sweet Home Alabama, Little Black Book, The Break-Up, Just My Luck, Failure To Launch, et al--it’s hard to argue.
It is with some trepidation and a mixture of faint hope, then, that RomCom fans should greet the arrival of a new film by writer/director Nancy Meyers. Over the years, Meyers has been responsible for an unbroken string of uniformly mediocre female-centric films (Private Benjamin, Protocol, Baby Boom, Father of the Bride, I Love Trouble, What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give). Her films have always attracted talent, however, and The Holiday is no exception.
The film traces the twin trajectories of two romance-hungry gals who decide, on a whim, to trade houses over the Christmas holiday. Amanda (Cameron Diaz) is a workaholic L.A. power babe who owns a movie advertising company. Iris (Kate Winslet) is a timid, brokenhearted Brit who’s stuck (a bit too ironically, perhaps) writing the wedding announcements for a London newspaper. Of course, with Amanda visiting picturesque rural England and Iris ensconced in movie-stars-and-swimming-pools Hollywood, romance is sure to flower.
Actually, The Holiday takes a little while getting itself in gear. Much time is seemingly squandered setting up the backstories and assorted supporting characters in both gals’ lives. Diaz, at first, comes across as annoying and stuck-up--granted, her character is supposed to be, but it takes a little too long to warm up to her. Winslet, on the other hand, is quite likable in what seems to be her first lightweight role in ... OK, ever. Unfortunately, her story takes a while to gather steam. At 138 minutes, The Holiday could have used some serious front-end trimming.
Still, when the film finally does get around to doling out the cute romance, things improve markedly. Amanda, hoping her holiday in the English countryside will take her far from troubling men, manages to fall immediately into bed with Iris’ brother (Jude Law), the consummate English cad (though, as it happens, the nicest cad in the history of the world). Meanwhile, Iris, trying to distract herself from the still-alluring influence of her despicable ex-boyfriend (Rufus Sewell), pokes her nose into the life of Amanda’s neighbor (Eli Wallach), an aged but interesting screenwriter. Eventually, she finds time to set off a few sparks with a nice but romance-challenged film composer (an understated Jack Black). The cute stuff does get dangerously cute, but it never spills over into gag-reflex-triggering treacle--thanks mostly to the solid cast.
Meyers relies too heavily on the insider Hollywood jokes, and does dawdle before getting to the meat of her story. (I doubt all that many people will care about the subplot involving a Writer’s Guild of America tribute for Eli Wallach’s character.) Still, the actors are a fine lot, and it’s fun watching them canoodle (in Diaz and Law’s case) or non-canoodle (in Winslet and Black’s case). Meyers apparently wrote all these roles with those specific actors in mind, and it shows.
Occasionally, Meyers falls back on Hollywood cliché. But, for the most part, she’s created some endearingly human characters. Amanda and Iris have deep personal and emotional hurdles to conquer before they can fall in love--which makes for a refreshing change from the usual far-fetched RomCom misunderstandings. (Sample: “I have a confession to make: I’m not actually the president of the United States, I’m his twin brother. I’ll be leaving on the midnight flight to Moscow. If you love me, race to the airport at the last minute and arrive just as the plane pulls onto the runway. I’ll be standing by the ticket counter smiling as you turn tearfully from the jetway.”)
The Holiday doesn’t break any new ground for romantic comedies (look to Stranger Than Fiction for that), but it is the closest thing to an enjoyable mainstream RomCom Hollywood has offered up since Meg Ryan stopped being cute and started fooling around with Russell Crowe.