Like most Christmas vacations, “The Holiday” is way too long and a little too cutesy. I’m convinced no formulaic romantic comedy needs to be over 100 minutes, let alone over 130, and surely the adorability of Jack Black diminishes with each successive viewing of him. Yet Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz are the stars, in material tailor-made for them — Winslet’s unorthodox beauty and vulnerability, Diaz’s goofy energy — and they go a long way toward making it work.
It’s from the pastel-colored, softer-side-of-Sears, what-women-want mind of Nancy Meyers, writer-director of “Something’s Gotta Give” and director of, um, “What Women Want.” It gives us two female protagonists with different relationship problems, thus giving female audience members twice as many possible entry points into the story: Amanda (Diaz) had a good boyfriend who cheated on her and got kicked to the curb, sending Amanda into a fit of self-consciousness and righteous indignation; Iris (Winslet) had a lengthy affair with a cad who is now engaged to be married, yet Iris cannot seem to extricate herself from him, no matter how hard she tries.
Amanda lives in L.A., where she edits movie trailers for a living. Amusingly, she keeps imagining what the trailer for her life would sound like, and she doesn’t like it. Iris is a newspaper reporter in Surrey, England, writing obituaries about people whose lives were more full than hers is. Both in need of an escape for their Christmas vacations, Amanda and Iris meet online and swap houses for two weeks.
As Cupid would have it, while the women are trying to get away from men, they each find a local man to fall in love with. Amanda, staying at Iris’ cozy rural cottage, meets Iris’ rakish brother Graham (Jude Law). Iris, at Amanda’s palatial Hollywood home, connects with Miles (Jack Black), a film-score composer who is friends with Amanda’s ex.
If you have noticed that there doesn’t seem to be much of a conflict anywhere in that plot description, then you are one step ahead of Nancy Meyers. The usual romantic-comedy tropes, where the girl lies to the guy about her background/name/job/etc. and is eventually found out, or where the guy and girl hate each other at first, are refreshingly absent. Believe me, I applaud the idea of making a romantic-comedy that does not rely entirely on cliched conflicts. But there needs to be SOME kind of complication.
The best “The Holiday” can muster is the fact that, love or no love, Amanda and Iris both have to return home at some point. Yet even this pseudo-conflict isn’t broached until late in the game, and its resolution is a foregone conclusion.
Iris spends a lot of time with Amanda’s next-door neighbor, an old man named Arthur (Eli Wallach) who was once a screenwriter and is now doddering and forgetful. Their scenes are immensely charming but naggingly irrelevant. It might be interesting to have Iris regain her self-confidence through a non-romantic relationship such as this, but the film gives her Arthur AND a new love interest. She doesn’t need both, and neither does the movie.
The “Shrek” films aside, this is the most likable and funny that Cameron Diaz has been in years. She starts off with some over-the-top fuming and histrionics, but once she settles down, she’s a relatable neurotic mess, and good with the comedy, too. Likewise, Kate Winslet — in her fourth film this year! — is sympathetic, a smart woman who has been unwise in love but who earns our affections, not our judgments.
If the film weren’t so long — more importantly, if it didn’t FEEL so long — I’d be able to give it a more glowing recommendation. It has some laughs, and Winslet’s character is particularly endearing. But it’s too bloated and precious the way it is, a little too adorable even for this adorable time of year.
C+ (2 hrs., 11 min.; )