2nd December: The Holiday

Image: United International Pictures

The Reel Time Christmas Movie Advent Calendar is exactly what it says on the tin: a classic festive countdown, except instead of chocolate behind the windows it’s my ramblings on a host of Christmas films. In true advent calendar style, films will not be announced in advance, but revealed at 6pm each day. Get involved by shouting abuse at me on Twitter and Facebook, or even just reading and sharing. I hope this can bring a little cheer at the end of a miserable year. Enjoy! 

Year: 2006

Director: Nancy Meyers

Writer: Nancy Meyers

Starring: Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black

May contain spoilers.

Let me get this straight. Where the fuck is Kate Winslet’s cottage? Because I think we are told it is a short-ish commute to London, but it appears to be in the arse-end of nowhere. Precisely, half a mile up a country lane into the arse-end of nowhere. It’s completely isolated, so much so that a car can’t even get close to it. It’s also very lovely, double-fronted with a garden and not nearly as small-looking from the outside as the inside and regular allusions to its pokiness would imply.

So Kate Winslet pops back here every day after finishing at The Telegraph does she? And she can afford this on the pay of a mid-level journalist? The exterior and interior of the house were built separately and specially for the purposes of the film, which makes sense as I have a strong feeling that this place could not actually exist. The inspiration was apparently a similar cottage in Holmbury St. Mary, which is both well over an hour out of London and located in pricey Surrey. I rest my case.

None of this actually matters, of course, and is hardly evidence of a poor film as much as the iron will of some Brits to have a go at Americans misunderstanding British geography. (Don’t even get Londoners started on how Thor gets half-way across the capital in two tube stops in Avengers: Age of Ultron.) The explanation (her family has lots of money and her home is fictional) is kind of reasonable really, but that won’t stop me going off on one.

The film, in general, is fine. I laughed a little, swooned a tad (mostly over Jude Law) and smiled a solid amount over the course of two and a bit hours. Quite why this film seems to be so beloved by some people is a bit beyond me, however. That’s not because I don’t get the love for a cutesy romantic comedy, but because I don’t think The Holiday is an especially good one. Fellow festive romance Love Actually gets a lot of flak from film critics, but at a couple of points during The Holiday I found myself wishing I was watching Richard Curtis’ film instead.

They are actually fairly different works, bound mostly by Christmas and multiple storylines. The Holiday is more rom, Love Actually more com. The distinction I want to make, though, is that Love Actually, and lots of romantic comedies far better than both these two, has an identifiable flavour and personality to it that I found sadly lacking in The Holiday. It is something all romances (comedy or not) need if they are not to feel too formulaic.

Where the film works best is often when it is not trying to be a conventional festive rom-com. I love that Jack Black and Kate Winslet are kind of together but not really at the end. It looks all the way as if the film will quickly pair off these two loose characters in a forced romance right at the end, but Meyers cleverly sidesteps this with something less neat but much more authentic.

I really like the initial house-swap idea in the first place, and it all plays out nice and smoothly too. The cast are good, especially the hugely charming Jude Law. Like I said, it’s not bad. There’s a lot I like about The Holiday. But most of what I liked is spread too thin and developed too little to move beyond basic ideas and clichés.

The background to Jude Law’s character of being a widower and having two children, for example, is a really interesting development. When that is revealed, a fairly flimsy romance between him and Cameron Diaz finally has some meat to it. How will she react? How will they reconcile their very different lifestyles? This thread is abandoned, however, for a far less interesting ‘long distance’ plot-line.

Then there’s the ‘toxic ex’ stuff that binds Kate Winslet and Jack Black, but this also doesn’t have the room to grow beyond a surface level idea. Rufus Sewell plays a good bastard, but it’s still just a worse version of Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones. Similar issues plague the sub-plot with the old Hollywood screenwriter Black and Winslet befriend. It is sweet and charming, yes, but there’s nothing really to it other than ‘this man is old and cute, and he likes the word ‘gumption’ so please cry when we’re nice to him’.

Jack Black’s character in general I didn’t particularly connect with. If it were up to me, he would be cut entirely and that extra time used to properly get into the friendship between Winslet and her elderly chum, and also to spend a bit more time on Cameron Diaz’s role in this film. I just found it so hard to invest in her storyline. The thread about her not being able to cry is the kind of thing that would normally reduce me to a weeping wreck, but here it barely registers. I think that’s because her whole ‘I have no boyfriend so am sad’ background feels so weak and familiar.

It feels like Meyers has taken four potential films, developed each one to the ‘quite good’ point, and then smushed them together. This results in something that is an enjoyable enough watch but that is all. There’s also a frustrating lack of resolution to the whole thing. Very long for Christmas fluff, The Holiday doesn’t even give us a proper ending.

Will Diaz and Law end up together? Will they try to make it work long-distance? Or will one of them move? How will this impact their careers?  Meyers’ solution is to delay the inevitable for another week and stage a New Year’s Eve party instead. I like an ambiguous ending in the right place, but this just feels like a cop-out. Still, The Holiday is amiable and charming and has nice houses, so I can’t complain too much, can I?

Andrew Young

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