Monday, 11 December 2006

Holiday, The (2006)

Two romantic comedies for the price of one!

We live in a degenerate age where we are bombarded with unbelievably bad romantic comedies – look at the very wide misses from the cinemas recently: Lovewrecked, Failure to Launch, The Break-up, and you’ll realise that Hollywood has neither the acting talent, writing talent, nor directorial talent to churn out credible entries in a run-of-the-mill, formula-driven genre. Of course, it makes it far easier to separate the wheat from the chaff, and I’m very pleased to say that Nancy Myers (the director who gave us gems like What Women Want and Something’s Gotta Give) has struck gold again with The Holiday.

In fact, the movie is so good that I believe Myers has outdone herself this time, by giving us two romantic comedies in one film, both proficiently written and directed. Over in London, Kate Winslet plays Iris, a mousy journalist who nurses an unhealthy fixation with a co-worker who’s engaged but keeps sending conflicting signals to her. Over in Los Angeles, Cameron Diaz is Amanda, a type A personality businesswoman who, despite the inability to cry or be emotional, is emotionally confused about her live-in boyfriend. Both Amanda and Iris suffer breakdowns in their relationships, and since it’s Christmas weekend, both have the wish to get away as far as possible in order not to be reminded of their pathetic romantic misadventures. Since it’s a romantic comedy, both end up enlisting in a vacation programme where they exchange homes for the holidays, and end up meeting the local men.

It’s entirely to the credit that Myers is improving on her art: in order to let Amanda and Iris get their men in the end, there aren’t too many incredulity-stretching coincidences, or at any rate, none that feel overly intrusive and purely just there to move the plot forward for a beleaguered writer. The parallel storylines that take place in Los Angeles and a small English town offer enough contrast that we can forgive the director for pushing the runtime of the movie over 2 hours. Lovers of romantic comedies won’t be bored; the Kate Winslet-Jack Black story is quirky and doesn’t involve the two romantically linked till the very end, while the Cameron Diaz-Jude Law story is the more traditional “love affair in a foreign land”.

If you’re not in the cinema due to a love for the romantic comedy genre, you can take solace in two things: as with her earlier works, Nancy Myers loves to take gender stereotypes, turn them on their head, and then throw them back into the romantic comedy genre. The results, as always, are always interesting to observe, especially with Jack Black as a romantic leading man. The other, more superior ingredient that makes this movie more than watchable is its smart self-awareness – it’s like Scream for romantic comedies. Amanda, being a producer of movie trailers, constantly has fantasies of her romantic life flash out before her eyes – and on the screen – as trailers, while Jack Black plays a talented composer for film soundtracks, who gets a juicy and entertaining scene in a video store. Myers also gamely admits that the heyday of Hollywood produced greater romances and romantic comedies than the modern day, and goes on to reference them, mostly through Eli Wallach, playing a retired master scriptwriter in the LA story who passes remarks about the blockbusterisation of Hollywood, recommend great classics in the same breath, and proceed to woo the stockings off any sceptic who believes there isn’t a well-craft movie nowadays, or a truly likeable character in a formulaic genre. I personally found the Kate Winslet-Jack Black portion far more entertaining solely due to the presence of the unpredictable charm of Eli Wallach.

If anything, The Holiday will make audiences more appreciative and pay attention to ‘minor’, almost invisible components of a movie – its soundtrack, trailers, and scriptwriters. And perhaps, it might even spur a few to investigate old movies from the 50s and 60s as well. What more do you want from a fluffy romantic comedy?

First published at incinemas on 14 December 2006

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice appreciation of the film. So many reviewers are afraid to like its basic sweetness and optimism and high standards for behavior. And the fact that it serves as a vehicle for introducing young audiences to a vital era in film history especially for writers and women.