The movie opens with an attractive couple locked in an embrace. The day is sunny, the trees are leafy and a brook babbles nearby. In the background plays the appropriate sweet syrupy music. This is what love is all about, or it should be, right? Alas, this is a false opening, it’s actually a trailer produced by the tightly wound Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz). Amanda’s love life is not like her trailer. She’s just kicked out her cheating boyfriend and the upcoming holidays are looking pretty lonely.
Way across the Atlantic, Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet) is moaning about her unrequited love for a no-good fellow reporter and former boyfriend. When their boss announces the no-gooder’s engagement, Iris is crushed. Amanda may be too tightly wound to cry but Iris can cry and she does, buckets and buckets.
Both of them resolve to take a break from their messy lives, a “holiday” during the holiday season. They meet online via a home-exchange website and agree to trade houses for a couple of weeks, ending New Year’s Eve. Amanda has a palatial pad complete with pool and electronic gate, clichéd Hollywood-style. Iris has a refurbished centuries-old cottage with a white picket fence and a friendly dog, clichéd jolly old English-style. Fair trade? You decide.
Iris is awed by her temporary home away from home. She literally jumps for joy at the sight of the huge swimming pool. Amanda discovers high heels aren’t the best footwear for snow-covered country lanes. Duh. California is not the centre of the universe, Amanda! She seems a bit underwhelmed by Iris’s home but it’s cozy enough and she plans to do a lot of reading anyway.
How much reading Amanda gets done is debatable after she meets Iris’s drunken brother Graham one night. He’s accustomed to spending the night at his sister’s cottage after he’s tied a few on at the local pub. A tentative kiss leads to other things offscreen. Amanda wants her holiday fling with Graham to stay a fling but things get complicated soon enough with “feelings”.
Meantime, Iris becomes friends with Amanda’s composer buddy Miles (Jack Black). Miles is too busy mooning over his flaky actress girlfriend to notice romantic possibilities with Iris. Besides, she’s still attached to her no-good manipulative ex, even agreeing to edit his book. Iris also gets involved with loveable old coot Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach) (not in that way!), a screenwriter during Hollywood’s Golden Age of Movies (that’s the 1930s-40s, kids). While this subplot is cute, too much time is spent on it.
There are some gently amusing moments in “The Holiday”. These include Iris’s accidental discovery via a tangled three-way phone conversation that her brother is sleeping with her house guest and Miles serenading Iris in the video store. Watch for Dustin Hoffman’s cameo. There’s also a recurring joke of Amanda thinking of her life in movie trailer form.
“The Holiday” is as sweet as a candy cane and just as filling. It’s a pleasantly told tale, mostly predictable but there are a few surprises. It’s good for any time of year you’re looking for a good chick flick, not just the Christmas season.
“The Holiday” is available on DVD and includes commentary by the director as well as a “Making of” featurette.
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