Movie Review – The Holiday

The Holiday (2006)
Written & Directed by Nancy Meyers

I don’t really enjoy much of Nora Ephron’s work. It’s just not my taste, but I acknowledge there are things I like. Despite knowing it is such a flawed picture, I have a soft spot for My Blue Heaven. Ephron’s closest contemporary is Nancy Meyers. Both women were gaining steam during the same period, and they made films targeted at women…well, white women. Where Ephron can be playful & inventive, even if it doesn’t always work (see Bewitched), Meyers consistently wallows in indulgent upper-middle-class fluff. I actually went into The Holiday with a moderate amount of open-mindedness. For years, I heard people defend the movie citing the Kate Winslet/Jack Black half of the picture as worthwhile. I like both those performers and decided to include this in my A Very 2000s Christmas series and was looking forward to them.

This is the tale of two women. Iris Simpkins (Winslet) is an English newspaper columnist who finds it difficult to move past her ex-boyfriend (Rufus Sewell). Meanwhile, in the States, Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz) is a movie trailer producer whose boyfriend has just cheated on her. Amanda comes across a listing for Iris’s rural cottage on a home swap website. They agree to the change of scenery and spend the holiday season in each other’s location. Wouldn’t you know it, they both find the men of their dreams under these conditions. Amanda meets Iris’s brother, Graham (Jude Law) but suspects she’s just one of many women he’s stringing along. Iris befriends Miles (Jack Black), a film composer and friend of Amanda’s. She also develops a strong friendship with Arthur (Eli Wallach), a retired screenwriter who sees something more in this woman who woefully underestimates herself.

The first problem with this movie is its indulgent runtime of 136 minutes. I am a big believer that most films deserve 90 minutes. Beyond that, the elements of the picture need to prove to the audience why the movie deserves more of their time. People have busy lives and shouldn’t have to sit through bogged-down, bloated films. This is the problem with almost all mainstream entertainment, which I am assuming does this to make people feel like they are “getting their money’s worth.” It is actually a case of quantity over quality. One storyline is moderately okay, the Winslet/Black arc, but by no means would I say I enjoyed it. I disliked it far less than the Diaz/Law half of the movie.

We must remember that Nancy Meyers does not make movies for all women; she makes them for upper-middle-class white women or poor/working-class white women under the delusion that they will one day live like her characters. Her attempts at addressing how men exploit women or the inadequacy women often feel in their lives are undercut by how shallow her characters are written. It’s hard to see such bland people representing anyone’s lived experience. What audiences actually received is a platter of over-used & lazy cliches.

The Holiday uses its first 30 minutes to set up the movie, resulting in wheel spinning. The film keeps emphasizing the conditions of our two protagonists after we clearly understand who they are and their conflicts. Characters are introduced, a considerable number whom we will never see again or briefly in inconsequential appearances. When the actual plot gets rolling, nothing of note happens. You will not be surprised by any of the movie’s “twists” and instead will become annoyed, especially with Diaz & Law, who are absolutely insufferable in this movie. I don’t necessarily blame them; Myers’ writing is dreadful.

Even worse is that Winslet is given nothing to work with, so her plot flounders. Her chemistry with Black feels incredibly forced & inauthentic. Her scenes with Eli Wallach pop a bit more, and I would have preferred to see a movie about that friendship rather than the shallow romantic comedy pablum that The Holiday ultimately becomes. Amanda’s story is full of irrational, magical thinking, while it’s clear Myers was trying a more grounded approach with Iris. Neither works, and it is undeniable when parallels between the two plots are attempted. It is also clear that Myers is personally more interested in Amanda’s shallow arc and, as a result, underwrites Iris’s story. 

If you love this movie, I’m glad you found it, but it’s not worth a rewatch from me. This will not be part of my holiday movie rotation. It’s disappointing because there are actors here that are good. It’s Nancy Myers’ fault, in the end, another movie on her resume that perpetuates stereotypes and is fueled by boring cliches.

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