The Holiday (2006) review — The verdict on the popular seasonal romcom

So, this is what happened:

A friend and colleague at work and I got talking about Christmas movies. She raved about The Holiday. She says it’s a delight, with just the right mix of sweetness and romcom magic, and for those with interest in house porn, the locations—a home in Los Angeles, and another in rural England—are worth the price of admission.

As soon as I admitted I’d never seen it, a DVD found its way into my hand.

For the record, here’s my relationship with Christmas movies: I’m a longtime fan of It’s A Wonderful Life, I’ve enjoyed the conversations in recent years about the Christmas credentials of Die Hard—and I even wrote a blog post about other alternative seasonal films—but couldn’t care less about Miracle On 34th Street, Home Alone, Elf, or any of the others frequently served up as genre classics. Love, Actually is OK, but I don’t need to see it every year. Just as I am deeply ambivalent about the holiday itself, so am I a case-by-caser on the movies associated with said holiday. But I am a fan of a good romantic comedy.

So, here I am with The Holiday. I’m gonna write my reactions as I go, live-blog style.

I kinda know the gist of the story from the trailer and reviews I’ve read: An American and British woman switch homes for Christmas and find love across the pond, or something like that. It’s written and directed by Nancy Myers, whose work includes Father Of The Bride, Something’s Got To Give, It’s Complicated, and The Intern. I have a sense of what I’m getting in to.

I’m watching it on a Sunday. My partner and frequent cinepanion, she’s left the room. She’s seen the film and hates it. She says the romantic pairings in the cast—Kate Winslet and Jack Black, Cameron Diaz and Jude Law—have no chemistry at all, and she says Diaz is especially obnoxious in this.

Is she right, or is my colleague? Let’s see. Spoilers are definitely forthcoming.

Kate Winslet is voice-over-ing Jack Black and Shannyn Sossamon. Shannyn is clearly less interested in Jack than he is in her, but why is Kate talking over this scene? I’m sure all this will make sense soon.

Kate Winslet is Iris. She’s obsessed with a colleague at her work, Jasper (Rufus Sewell) who she was “shagging,” until he started “shagging” someone else. “Shagging” is a really great word. Now it’s the Christmas party. And here’s Jasper. He’s clearly unworthy scum, who’s still flirting with her despite having messed her about.

Iris works at a newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. The newsroom looks like an Indigo Books, with Wham’s “Last Christmas” playing. That makes sense. And we get the announcement to the gathered employees that Jasper is engaged! What a total cad!

Iris walks along the South Bank of the Thames, the Houses of Parliament in the background. The tube is the other way, darling!

Her country cottage looks like some kind of a postcard. Is this a set?

Now we’re in LA. Cameron Diaz is Amanda, and Edward Burns is Ethan. Amanda doesn’t know how to cry. I wonder if this will play a role later in the film.  Amanda has just thrown Ethan out because he’s been “shtupping” (also a great word) his 24-year-old receptionist. Amanda’s house is an obvious set. Is that an orange tree outside her front door? Professionally, she cuts trailers for big budget movies, including an action picture called Deception, starring Lindsay Lohan and James Franco. (I’d watch it.) Her assistants are Kathryn Hahn and John Krasinski, who both look like they’re about 16.

Holy shit, Cameron Diaz is irritating. My cinepanion was right about that.

Iris is crying. She’s going to commit suicide by sucking on the gas stove! But then Amanda contacts her on the internet. They’re going to switch homes for the holiday! What perfect timing!

For someone who we know can be so undeniably, fragrance-sellingly glamorous, Winslet is believably frumpy and insecure here. Diaz’s movie-trailer fantasies are funny, as is her driving on the “wrong” side of the road. The wardrobe for all is also pretty impressive, but especially Diaz.

Y’know, so far, so romcom charming. The overhead lighting is appalling, though… why is it necessary to light people when they’re outside like they’re in a studio? (Maybe because it’s all shot in a studio, even the exteriors? Could be.) But the cast is fetching, no doubt. Lots of great teeth.

Something blew into Iris’s eye, and Jack Black shows up to fish it out! Oh, and there’s Eli Wallach, who shows up just as Ennio Morricone is mentioned. That’s an interesting spaghetti western connection.

Jude Law is Graham, Iris’ brother. Five minutes after he and Amanda meet, they start making out! Makes sense. When good-looking people get together, this instantly happens. (Or so I’ve always suspected.)

I hope Iris and Amanda meet at some point. I feel like a good romcom is concentrated wish-fulfillment, and that’s my wish.

Eli Wallach is, was, a wizard. He’s always got chemistry with his scene partners, whether they “meet-cute” or not. But, the Hannukah dinner scene is a little weird. Did he bring his housekeeper with him to make the meal? Who is that character in the background?

I’m actually on board with Graham and Amanda, or Jude and Cameron. Their pairing is pretty unlikely, but she’s dialling back the neuroses and yelling at this point, so she’s a lot easier to like.

One question: How is it Sophie and Olivia, who are both under the age of eight, have cell phones?

“Mr Napkinhead” will haunt my nightmares.

Kate Winslet and Jack Black are also surprisingly great, if also unlikely. The scene in the video store was good fun—the Dustin Hoffman cameo a nice touch. And with Wallach’s Hollywood veteran screenwriter character bringing up all these classic features of the past, you can feel the movie wishing it was from that era. Not getting anywhere near there, but wishing.

Oh, the fake snow is driving me nuts! Diaz running through it in her high heels is a low point.

Iris and Amanda meet! And it’s lovely. Though I’m not exactly hopeful that either of these romantic connections will lead to any lasting happiness. So many obstacles of distance and incompatibility. If anything, The Holiday is a celebration of the rebound hook-up.

I’d watch a sequel where it turns out Amanda and Iris are more into each other than the boys. That would be a wonderful twist.

Credits roll. That wasn’t as awful as I was warned, but neither was it some kind of Christmas romcom classic, either. I fall solidly in between the poles. I thought the actors did have chemistry, and the addition of unexpected Wallach brought a lot of welcome, extra flavour. At times it cleaved a little too closely to the romcom formula, but not so much I felt any lingering animosity. There was, however, no reason this picture needed to be more than two hours, and I never much thought the houses were special because they seemed so obviously sets rather than actual interiors.

Enjoy your holidays, one and all.

About the author

flawintheiris

Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.

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