THE HOLIDAY, written, produced and directed by hitmaker Nancy Meyers for the end-of-year festive slate of 2006, is a pleasing rom-com entry, patently unsurprising in how it all ends up, and at 135 minutes, pushing it by 15 or 20, but it’s a very easy break to take, thanks mostly to the adept, personable and attractive stars. *
‘Iris’ (Kate Winslet), Londoner and columnist, and ‘Amanda’ (Cameron Diaz), L.A.-based producer of movie trailers, meet online and decide to do a temporary house swap over the Christmas holidays. Each have been left adrift by their unfaithful boyfriends, and both need an escape from the scenes of the heart crimes. Iris is astounded at Amanda’s luxury digs in Brentwood, and she befriends film composer ‘Miles’ (Jack Black) and elderly ‘Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), a revered screenwriter, someone who knows his characters. Over in the cozy English country cottage Iris traded, Amanda meets ‘Graham’ (Jude Law), who besides being devil handsome and charming, is Iris’s brother. He also has two adorable kids (thank God he’s a widower!: the script both lets Amanda off the hook and ensnares her).
In “meet-cute” situations like this (Arthur even explains the concept to Iris) there’s not much outcome surprise, because we know going in that a happy ending is in the cards (on page 125 of the script, with hints starting on pages 5 and 15), so hopefully the fun comes from how it’s handled by writing, direction and casting. In this instance, all three click, with the skill of the actors getting an edge. Black tames his normal abnormality down a notch, old pro Wallach, 90 and sharp, commands a scene just by being in it, and Law effectively changed gears from a run of icy dramas to be winning and likable. Winslet is never less than grade-A: she gets the soppier end of the schtick here and plays it like a flute. Best of all is the underrated Diaz, who Meyers seems to favor; in Dean Cundey’s cinematography her closeups practically glow.
Since this is Meyers Territory being trodden, the “connected”, tony-class-inhabiting singles are all well-off professionals, the sets are so elaborate they rate as characters, the charged yet considered sexual dynamics a reversal of the traditional man-bumbles-into-bliss trope, while honoring the classic elegance-meets-attitudes style laid down in the 30s and 40s. It’s fru-fru and fake, but also clever, consoling and kind-hearted.
The star salaries, Meyers well-ascribed perfectionism (known to demand dozens of takes), and the production design ended up costing $85,000,000 (ghastly, really, for a plush yet intimate small-scale rom-com), with another $34,000,000 then spent to advertise it. In the U.S. a take of $63,000,000 (45th in ’06) did not bode well, but that was salvaged by another $142,000,000 earned abroad.
Cute cameos come from Dustin Hoffman, Lindsay Lohan and James Franco. The jerks who forced change on the heroines are fit-filled by Edward Burns and Rufus Sewell, and Shannyn Sossamon is Black’s starlet heart-stopper. Law’s tots are Miffy Englefield and Emma Pritchard. Others on hand are Bill Macy, John Krasinski, Kathryn Hahn and Shelley Berman.
* “…adept, personable and attractive stars”: it can’t be just me: while Jack Black is well-suited (or straight-jacketed) to the outrageous (School Of Rock, High Fidelity, King Kong, numerous other examples), trying to buy him as “a regular person”, let alone a romantic mate…for Kate Winslet!, is a road less gargled. Maybe it’s those black marble eyes that flash INSANITY! DEAD AHEAD!
Diaz, on Nancy Meyers: “She walks to the beat of her own drum. I think she’s picked her lane, and she stays in it. That’s what I really love about her. She’s not trying to reinvent anything. She’s like, “I created this wheel; I created this. I made this path. This is my lane. I’m in it, I own it, and that’s just what I do. And everybody can get onboard or not. But this is the train going this way. It’s already left the station, and it’s on its way to its destination.”