I’m absolutely positive she wouldn’t care for me mentioning her in print, but I swear (sweetheart), it’s to elucidate a point relevant to The Holiday, Nancy Meyers’ latest venture into female-demographic whoredom. See, my wife is one of those hardcore, Smith College, Indigo-Girls-lovin’, third-wave feminists who’s very serious about gender micropolitics, her disdain for Camille Paglia, and her belief that feminism should always trump femininity. But beneath the Seven Sisters’, riot grrrl, Bitch-reading veneer, there’s a soft, gooey chick-flick center that rears itself occasionally, mostly when she’s under the spell of influenza, a time when gender concerns are pushed aside temporarily and replaced with her VHS copy of You’ve Got Mail, which ain’t even the good Nora Ephron film. Maybe I’m wrong to believe that female empowerment and Meg Ryan shouldn’t co-exist, but it certainly feels like a strange contradiction to me.
But then again, I’ve seen it in our comments section, as well: Strong female readers who take me to task for mocking the vertebral structure of Jennifer Aniston in one review, and then profess their undying love for the chivalrous The Princess Bride (a great film, by the by) in another, or say, of James Bond, that you “need someone who you could picture having rough sex with a barely willing woman.” Clearly, I make no judgments (nor do I assume the few speak for the many), but I do get the sense that even the grrrliest of womyn are willing to put aside their post-structuralist views on sexuality for a few hours when a sensitive Jude Law (John Cusack? Christian Bale?) character is concerned. Perhaps, it’s the same chink in the armor that I have when it comes to godawful sports flicks that end with brilliant, film-saving trick plays (had James Cameron tossed in a hook ‘n’ ladder with DiCaprio’s frozen, severed head to the concluding scenes of Titanic, I might have been won over).
All of which puts me in an uncomfortable position in predicting the reception a largely female audience might give The Holiday. I have absolutely no qualms in saying that I didn’t really like it — besides being painfully conventional, I didn’t much care for Meyers’ need to haul out all of the genre touchstones: the cute kids, an adorable puppy, a charmingly wise senior citizen, a lovable schlub, and even the wounded ladies’ man, all of whom actually fare better onscreen than the two leading ladies, Kate Winslet and (especially) Cameron Diaz. I don’t mean to jump on the gossip-blog bandwagon and ridicule Diaz just for the sake of ridiculing her, but dear God she’s awful: She’s not only unappealing (aesthetically and innately), but she cannot freakin’ act. She’s just a big glob of pasty skin taking up space better filled by cardboard cutouts of Andrew Niccol’s S1m0ne, a CGI creation that was infinitely more expressive than Diaz and didn’t feel the need to fishhook each side of her mouth to connote happiness. It’s bloody amazing Diaz hasn’t been cast in a comic-book film yet; if Ratner wants to invent a character called Gobsmack for the next X-Men installment, look no further than Cameron Diaz, whose dimples offer a porthole into eternal nothingness.
Diaz aside, however, Nancy Meyers also thinks she’s found, within The Holiday’s premise, the ideal way to bridge Nora Ephron and Helen Fielding: A transatlantic house swap(!). It’ll be great, right? Bridget Jones goes to L.A. and falls in love, while Sally Albright traipses over to Surrey and falls head over heels for Mark Darcy. The only problem, of course, is that she scrapes from the bottom of each oeuvre, and then compounds the offense by injecting a few “Ally McBeal” fantasy sequences.
Here, Iris (Kate Winslet) plays the Bridget Jones character — pathetic, obsessive, and stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship with a higher-up at her newspaper, Jasper (Rufus Sewell), filling the Hugh Grant role. Iris says “shag” a lot, because that’s what cheeky British people say, apparently. And she constantly bemoans her love life, especially after she discovers that Jasper has become engaged to another co-worker.
Meanwhile, Amanda — who edits movie trailers for a living — has just thrown over her boyfriend (Ed Burns), after she discovers that he’s been sleeping with his assistant. Amanda, however, is too emotionally unavailable, cold, and detached to get herself worked up over the split, though she does attempt with little comedic effect to will herself to weep (haven’t I already seen this episode of “Friends”?). So, what’s a girl without a man to do? House swap, of course. And so, after a blatant Google product-placement (“Do no Evil,” my ass), the two trade houses for two weeks, so that Iris and Amanda can discover the new joys of in-home studios with elaborate DVD collections and homey, cottage lives in rural-ish England, respectively.
But, of course, neither woman — both of whom proclaim they want nothing more to do with men — can live without a male love interest, which is where a movie like The Holiday seems to butt up against third-wave feminist ideology — that damned femininity always rears its mascara-laden, L’Oreal-lipsticked head, at least in Nancy Meyers’ films.
And so, on the European side of the Atlantic, enter Graham (Jude Law), Iris’ charming older brother with a mysterious background, who stumbles drunk over to Iris’ home and winds up sleeping with Amanda on the first night, only to spend the next two weeks quibbling with Amanda over the probable nonexistence of their future together. Meanwhile, in L.A., Miles (Jack Black) pops in on Iris to pick up Amanda’s ex-boyfriend’s laptop, a rendezvous that leads to another and another, up and until Iris and Jack’s platonic arrangement simply will not stand(!). The two are brought even closer together by a retired 90-year-old screenwriter, Arthur Abbot (Eli Wallach), whose fondness for the word “gumption” provides the film’s treacly “You Make Me Wanna Be a Better Man,” moment. Oy vey.
The surprise in The Holiday, however, is not that Cameron Diaz is her usual insufferable self, or that Kate Winslet probably should stick to quirky and/or serious roles instead of mainstream fluff, but that 1) Jude Law is captivating enough that I’d sleep with him (he’s long needed a non-cad role, where his charisma is not offset by his moral reprehensibility) and 2) Jack Black actually isn’t annoying. No — seriously. Aside from a few moments of video-store scat, scat, scatting, he’s surprisingly low-key and even somewhat convincing as the platonic-gone-awry love interest to Iris. It’s the closest that Black has come to his glory moments in High Fidelity,, and I think a large part of that is the relatively small role he is given in The Holiday — for the first time in a while, he’s not asked to carry a film single-handedly with his personality quirks. He’s dry and self-deprecating, instead of bombastic and in-your-face self-indulgent. For a bit, I even remembered why I once liked Jack Black.
Jude and Jack notwithstanding, The Holiday is mostly just a series of really, really (gawd! I wanna puke) cute moments (c’mon, were the lingering close-ups on the puppy really necessary?) held together by a couple of (mostly) unconvincing love stories. And even for a sap, the dialogue is forced, repetitive, and at times utterly cringe-worthy (though, nothing as gag-inducing as Paul Haggis’ imprimatur on the love scenes in Casino Royale).
But then again, clearly, I’m not the intended audience for The Holiday — I was one of maybe four men in the packed theater, and most of the women were actually yelling at the screen (“No, Iris. Don’t take him back!) and left weepy and/or applauding as the credits rolled. So, I’m guessing that if you are a You’ve Got Mail kind of woman, you might even find The Holiday not only tolerable, but crowd-pleasing — save for its endless runtime (131 minutes), it’s certainly on par with a film like Love, Actually and I’d probably place it miles ahead of any of Sandra Bullock’s cloying romantic comedies. I would, however, strongly recommend leaving your masculine counterpart at home unless, of course, you’re punishing him for mocking the curvature of Jennifer Aniston’s spinal column. In that case, I suppose, he deserves to suffer the indignity of two hours of Cameron Diaz through a soft-focus lens. Bastard.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He strongly urges you to check out and support the Third Wave Foundation, a great nonprofit that “strives to combat inequalities that we ourselves face as a result of our age, gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, or level of education.” You may email Dustin here.
The Holiday / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | December 8, 2006 | Comments ()