Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Holiday (movie review)

In Nancy Meyer's latest romantic comedy The Holiday, we learn early on that Cameron Diaz's character hasn't cried since she was fifteen years old. This crosscuts with scenes at the offices of a London Newspaper of Kate Winslet being asked to write the wedding notice for the man who jilted her in the midst of the office Christmas party. In a Nancy Meyer's movie (What Women Want, Parent Trap (the Lindsay Lohan remake), Something's Gotta Give), there's never much doubt about what's going to happen eventually. She is not a director who seeks to make cinematic statements or break technical ground with her films. In fact, she more or less revels in making movies that are manipulative, formulaic, and slick.

Basically, the Meyer's movie experience feels more or less like what would happen if a major women's magazine suddenly decided to get into the movie business and executed it with some level of skill and imagination. While Cameron Diaz/Jude Law and Kate Winslet/Jack Black are nominally the stars of this crosscut romance (oddly Holiday is arguably a more mature remake of the Parent Trap with its fascination with London mixing with California) the movie's real stars are its panoply of lifestyle accoutrements. Meyers seems to understand that male porn consists either of people having actual sex on screen or substituting explosions and fights for orgasms and that porn for a certain kind of woman takes the form of romance mixed with consumer fantasy.

The Holiday is thus built around two sets (um, er lives) exchanged over the internet and the Christmas Holiday by two women who have everything but a happy love life.
Diaz is a successful editor of film trailers who normally lives in a west Los Angeles mansion that crosses the Miami Vice school of interior design (Meyers appears to have an obsession with all things white) with a series of state of the art electronic gadgets. Winslet occupies an impossibly charming cottage in Surrey that is more or less Currier and Ives print brought up to date. In this version, it's constantly snowing in Surrey which happens to be a place where it rarely snows in real life, but this goes with Meyers's white obsession and gives the director multiple crosscut opportunities with snowflakes morphing into the white walls of Diaz's mansion. In the meantime, both Diaz and Winslet get to put on a variety of fashionable outfits.
In Diaz's case, this is mostly variations on white pantsuits. I must also comment that for some reason Hollywood seems to persist in the fantasy that newspaper reporters and book editors lead extraordinarily glamorous lives.

I suspect that Nancy Meyers or her fans would at this point stop me to insist that her movies have some sort of feminist subtext about strong independent women who still manage to find romance. In addition, Meyers fills The Holiday, in the person of Eli Wallach as cute old man next door, with multiple suggestions that she's carrying on the tradition of the the romantic comedies of the thirties and forties when screenwriters like Preston Sturges were among the highest paid individuals in Hollywood. The current standard way to do this is to have scenes of the characters watching old movies, something which Winslet gets to do at least a couple times in the movie. Meyers further piles on the homage with various "wise" comments from Wallach's retired screenwriter character about the state of the industry. In her best run at this, Meyers does pull off a scene in a video store with Jack Black's movie composer name-dropping character doing riffs on the scores of various Hollywood classics that's topped with a quick cut to Dustin Hoffman while Black does highlights of the score from the Graduate.

While these sort of Hollywood in jokes are invariably funny and Jack Black now seems to make his living from doing onscreen comic music riffs, Meyers movies aren't in the same class as the Graduate, Tracy and Hepburn, or George Cukor. They also are hardly intellectual fodder for any serious brand of feminism even as seen on the Lifestyle Network. First of all, Meyers's independent-successful female romantic leads always seem to start out the movie as some kind of emotional cripple who eventually gets saved by some sort of romance. That's not "feminist", it's arguably even vaguely misogynist. In The Holiday, Diaz's character ultimately finds redemption by having a one night stand with an attractive but very drunk Jude Law which somehow unleashes her latent desire for family and motherhood. Similarly Winslet gets grounded by discovering her desire to serve as perfect surrogate daughter to Eli Wallach. In the meantime, neither character has anything resembling an emotional compass, i.e. smart women are usually "frigid", not in a sexual sense but they trade off career success for being in touch with the realm of essentially feminine quality of emotional succor.

Meyers vision marries outward feminist rhetoric to a pre-feminist and strangely outdated sensibility that's oddly in harmony with Hepburn's 1942 Woman of the Year which ends with the fiercely independent Hepburn character cooking dinner for Spencer Tracy.

That said, The Holiday is strangely entertaining. One reason is that the lifestyle porn bit of the movie is done genuinely well. Even though it wasn't aimed at me, I rather enjoyed the fantasy of the widescreen tv, swimming pool, and hillside balconies of Diaz's home as they contrasted with the coziness of Winslet's cottage. Second, all the principals really are pretty good actors. Jude Law and Diaz have genuinely good onscreen chemistry which gets a huge boost from Meyers or the cinematographer's strong understanding of how to shoot both actors to best advantage. Diaz in particular looks anywhwere from terrific to dangerously over blonde and skeletal depending on the angle. In Holiday she's made to look glamorous via numerous facial closeups shot from underneath that emphasize her face and eyes. Full body shots are done at a distance. Similarly, Law gets straight on shots of his eyes and facial bone structure. Another bit that works is that the plot clearly plays against the subtext of Law's real life marital turmoil. In this case, he starts out as appearing the playboy while actually hiding the world's most wholesome secret.

Meyers also uses the cross cutting to good effect in picking up the contrast both physically and in acting style between Winslet and Diaz. Diaz is a strong physical comedian and a reasonably good technical actress, which Meyers takes advantage of via the conceit with the tears and Diaz's signature bit in the movie of being able to fluster but not feel. In addition, she gets to slug Ed Burns and fall down on a couple occasions. Winslet has a fuller look and a warmer comedic style. Meyers crosscuts from Diaz's scenes to Winslet's quite skillfully and the segues gives a sense that the movie was sort of what jazz musicians call a "cutting" session in which the soloists exchange eight bar riffs in a kind of friendly competition.

There are also a few touches that work despite their obviousness. Meyers uses the snow and Santa Anna winds in LA to force a kind of Midsummer's Night Dream mystical feel to the "switch" aspects of the movie. Second, there's a forced bit in which Diaz keeps seeing her own life as one of the film trailers she's been editing.

There's a tendency for some reviewers to write about films as if they must break intellectual ground in order to somehow be worthy. The Holiday would never pass this test. I tend to believe that part of the wonder of the cinema is that movies serve a wide variety of purposes. In this case, my sixteen year old daughter and I had an afternoon where we had to find something to do with three hours of our time in Raleigh, North Carolina. It has probably been at least two years since I went to a movie alone with my daughter. We were choosing between Jerry Bruckheimer's Deja Vu and The Holiday. We wanted something we could see together, maybe laugh a little, and not take the risk of feeling challenged in any way. There are days when one reads Proust and there are time when you reach for People Magazine. With the latter, you may not remember what you read, but it'll unquestionably help you pass the time. The Holiday, for whatever reason, meets that test.

other Chancelucky reviews



At 12/18/2006 01:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like above average eye-candy with pleasant actors. I'd be interested to see Jack Black as a romantic lead. (I wish he hadn't been so bad in King Kong. PJ should have used a Brit who could actually act & had said Brit do an American accent.)

Of course as with all movies, The Holiday should have had Clive Owen in it.

At 12/18/2006 09:37:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Mr. Pogblog,
that's a much quicker way to say it :}.
I enjoy Jack Black, but I don't like the fact that every director since High Fidelity has simply decided to repeatedly give him expanded versions of the same role.
btw. He does play a romantic lead in Shallow Hal, a generally mediocre movie. To be completely politically incorrect, he's much better playing the "fat" funny guy than the warm-center of a movie.

Clive Owen might have made a good cad boyfriend in this one. I think he would have overwhelmed Cameron Diaz and they couldn't cast him as Kate Winslet's actual love interest since the whole idea was Anglo-American pairings.

At 12/22/2006 05:44:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Happy Holidays Chancelucky and Pogblog and Jack and Clive and everyone else, accented or not.

At 12/26/2006 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Dale Merry Christmas to you too.

At 12/26/2006 09:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just can't buy Jack Black as the love interest of Kate Winslet.

I think you've captured the essence of Nancy Meyers movies pretty well-- women with fabulous stuff, modern careers and 1950s values.

At 12/27/2006 11:26:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Pink Fluffy,
I'm not sure Jack Black has done well as a romantic lead. It's not a looks thing, it's more that he's best at being goofy and seems better in sidekick roles.

At 7/14/2008 01:17:00 AM, Blogger cotedetexas said...

I think Jack Black ruins the movie - he's awful in it. He makes me cringe whenever he's on the screen. He seems embarrassed to speaking his lines. It's painful to watch. ok

Pros of the movie:
I know it's fluff and all, but it really affected me. The Law/Diaz pairing- because of the little girls. Oh, I shed some tears. The tent scene and the Three Muskateers = aw. That one scene made the movie for me.

CON: I adore N.Meyers - but she's so off with her timing on this one = the Eli Wallach role - not only do they become best buds, but she rehabilitates him and then they honor him with a room full of attendees - all within less than two weeks!!! So unneccesary and unbelievable. I mean - if you have to do that - stretch out the vacation time to a month or two rather than 2 weeks.

She did the same thing in SGG - has Keaton write a hit play, produce it on Broadway all within in a few short weeks! I mean - come on! I hate that about Meyers - she gives you such believable characters and dialouge and then ruins it with storyline.

My two cents. Your review was fabulous. Great blog - sorry to crash the party!

At 10/23/2008 05:21:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

on the contrary, thanks for crashing and please feel free to crash again.

At 2/25/2011 06:00:00 AM, Blogger Andrea said...

It was a pleasant experience watching this movie. The casting was very good means great characterization. Those who are looking for a light hearted movie then this is the one that I recommend they should go for.
online movies


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