The Holiday (2007)

Dir. Nancy Meyers
Starring: Cameron Dias, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, etc.

I heartily recommend this to Penny, Grace and Jill. (I found out that Jill saw this, and she just liked it mildly.) I would also recommend this to Mitchell and Tony, but not as strongly. I think there’s a good chance that Don, Marc and Joel would enjoy this, too, but I’m not as certain. I’m even less certain with Chris and Kevin—this is not the type of film I see them usually liking. Larrilynn gave this a 9 and said that this film definitely would make her top 10 favorites list. I think that’s excessive, although with some changes, this film could have been a nine. But the positive elements, for me, outweighed the negative, and I really enjoyed this.

The film involves two stories. One about a British journalist, Iris (Winslet), who runs away to LA during Christmas to get away from the man she loves, but who plans to marry someone else. The other story involves a business woman, Amanda (Diaz) who goes to England after a failed relationship. Despite some of its flaws, this is a solid Hollywood romantic comedy—reminding me of another Nancy Meyers film, Something’s Gotta Give. Both are good Hollywood romances, with a few flaws keeping it from being really good.

I’ve been mentioning this film with enthusiasm and my sister seemed genuinely puzzled about this. I don’t blame her because I’m a little puzzled by my reaction to this film, too. In the next section I’m going to try and explain that enthusiasm.

I’m generally very critical of many Hollywood films, but there is Hollywood aesthetic that can be quite appealing. I’m thinking of the films that effectively showcase great film stars. These films often surround the stars with a score (usually orchestral), cinematography, art production, make-up and costumes that create a sense of glamour and romance that independent films just can’t duplicate. However, for some reason these films seem rare in Hollywood. (Pretty Woman and maybe Notting Hill are the ones that comes to mind.)

The Holiday reminds me of these older Hollywood films, and it’s the main reason for my enthusiasm. Now, the film is a mixed bag, and while it realizes that Hollywood aesthetic on some level, it also fails on other levels.

Let’s start with what works. In short, Jude Law and Cameron Diaz. (I consider Kate Winslet a star, but I’ll explain later why I didn’t mention her.) They were the main
reason I liked this film. However, it didn’t start off that way. I thought Diaz’s acting in the opening tirade with Ed Burns was terrible. But something happened when she was with Law. First of all, the screen just lit up. With those two actors beaming at each other, there aren’t too many other actors who are as cinematically incandescent. It’s not just their good looks, but the way they deliver their lines and respond to each other. The chemistry reminded me of the great screen chemistry from couples like Bogey and Bacall or Tracy and Hepburn (perhpas not as good, but a notch below). They manage to almost single-handedly create a powerful feeling of romance and love, a romance that really wins over the audience. I generally prefer romances with a well-constructed story, a story that convinces me of the characters love for each other by developing the relationship in a real and convincing way. “However, sometimes movie stars with great chemistry can transcend the what’s written. The chemistry is so strong, I’m convinced just by the way the two actors look at each other. It’s magic. Law and Diaz have that magic and it’s worth seeing, especially since that kind of screen magic that can be compared to older films seems so rare.

What’s interesting is that, Law has failed to work for me in many of the films I’ve seen him , which is hard to figure, because he’s got the looks and acting ability. Part of the problem is that there is something smarmy about him, something that prevents me from liking and trusting him. He has the kind of good looks with deviousness built in. (That quality serves this film well, as it makes the twist more effective.) But somehow with Diaz, whatever problems I may have had with Law were not really there. And Diaz appears even more beautiful when she’s with Law. It’s a chemical reaction that’s bigger than the sum of its parts. Add to that the romantic British country town, a terrific score from Hans Zimmer and solid dialogue, and you’ve got the ingredients of what Hollywood does so well.

Unfortunately, that was only half of the film. The other half of the film involves Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Eli Wallach. Kate Winslet is star in her own right, but a similar chemical reaction doesn’t occur with Black. He was just the wrong guy for the part. Whatever humor Black could bring to the role (not very special) was less important than having good chemistry with Winslet. A good script and direction–one that took the time to convince audiences that they had a good thing–could have helped, but the script was not good. Wallach’s character–whose main purpose seemed to be to help Winslet’s character get confidence and dump the guy she was hung up over–just seemed a waste. It woudlnt’ be so bad, if Wallach and Winslet had chemistry together, but they didn’t, imo. While this half of the movie wasn’t terrible–I liked Winslet and her character and kept rooting for her–the filmmakers needed to rewrite and recast it. Had they done so, this could have been a great film.

Addendum July 14, 2009
I forgot to add something regarding the Kate Winslet portion of the film. There have been a few films (Waitress) were I complained about the feminist fantasy ending. Well, here’s a film where I would have preferred a “feminist” ending (for the Winslet story). Because she lacked chemistry with Black and the filmmakers did such a poor job of establishing their relationship, I would have preferred if the film ended with Winslet finally breaking ties with Jasper–a triumphant act that felt good, particularly since I felt for and liked Winslet’s character. Ending it, without having Winslet hook up with Black would have almost been preferrable (or maybe just a hint that there could be something for them in the future).

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