The holiday season is here. Crowds are growing. Decorations make everything festive. Goodwill is almost tangible in the air (when people aren't tearing each other apart to beat each other to massive sales). As far as movies go, the holiday season generates instant classics with memorable messages of peace and love. So why, in a season full of warmth and joy, are we getting a romantic comedy that is missing all of that stuff?
The Holiday is not your typical romantic comedy. In a genre that focuses on true love and love at first sight, this film looks at the other side: the unrequited love and the unfaithful; at least that's what the movie claims in the Kate Winslet powered opening monologue. By telling us this is its focus, The Holiday immediately attempts to garner sympathy for its main characters: a British social columnist who continues to love a man she can't have and a L.A. film trailer producer who can't cry, despite being in a relationship with a man who has cheated on her. With both women wanting to escape the men in their lives, the two happen across each other through a web site and end up exchanging homes for two weeks over the holiday. Of course, men are everywhere and both wind up meeting new guys in their new locales complicating matters further because now, instead of getting away, the women find themselves falling in love with people in places they are supposed to leave soon.
Don't be fooled: romantic topics such as unrequited love and women in empty relationships aren't anything new, no matter what Kate Winslet tells you. These concepts are a staple of the "chick flick," regardless of whether the film is set in the holiday season. Heck, Love Actually included both of those relationships and almost a dozen others in its holiday discourse on love. So, in that realm, The Holiday isn't as original as it wants you to think it is.
Lack of originality isn't The Holiday's biggest problem however. The characters simply have no chemistry together. In a mix of British and American actors, the cast has been put together all wrong, placing the film's more talented cast members with some of the weaker ones. From his previous roles I've been convinced there's not a woman alive who could avoid falling for Jude Law. Unfortunately, Cameron Diaz appears impervious to his natural charm and charisma. Despite the story telling the audience the two are falling in love, it never really appears on screen. Similarly, Winslet has more chemistry with elder actor Eli Wallach, who plays a writer from Hollywood's golden years, than with Jack Black who plays; well, Jack Black. What Black usually does is normally fine for the movies he appears in, but it feels out of place in this picture. He's not a romantic lead and looks out of place attempting to woo Winslet with his goofball antics disguised under the facade of a Hollywood music composer.
Part of that lack of chemistry can be written off to the film's hyper stylized script, which plays like a parody of this genre. Every character gets a monologue (each of which feels like a "for your consideration" bid) in which their deepest conflicts are unveiled to the new person in their life. The moments should be touching insights for each character but instead come across as an overdone parody. Diaz's characters biggest problem really can't be that she can't cry, can it (and if it is, doesn't that tell us instantly what her character's climactic moment will be)? Only Jude Law manages to avoid this flaw, but that's because his character is the only one with any real depth to it. The rest of the characters are paper thin. What you see is what you get and, for a genre of films that appeals to women, the depiction of these women as helpless emotional slaves with no real depth should be somewhat insulting.
Writer/director Nancy Meyers has done some great work in the past with films like Something's Gotta Give and What Women Want. This is not one of those movies and ultimately that blame lies with her. From a weak script to underdeveloped characters that clearly didn't challenge the actors playing the roles, The Holiday is just a waste. Add in those lame attempts to parody Hollywood (including a film trailer producer occasionally viewing her life as one big trailer, complete with the movie trailer voice over god Hal Douglas providing narration) and you've got a mess of a film. There are a lot of gimmicks to The Holiday but no real depth, making the film kind of like a department store Christmas present display. It may look pretty on the outside, but if you open it you quickly discover there is nothing worth hanging around for.