My fourth selection for the 12 Films of Christmas is a 2006 rom-com “The Holiday.” I don’t ordinarily like movies that fall into this category; my quota for liking “meet cute” storylines is pretty filled to the brim. However, this Nancy Meyers–helmed comedy surprised me because of its unapologetic commitment to breathtaking snow-filled villages, multimillion-dollar Los Angeles mansions, jet-setting overseas trips at the drop of a hat, and a reverence for the film industry itself. In one of its many subplots, a subordinate character recommends the fast-paced, rapid-fire dialogue of "My Girl Friday" as a tutorial for women's rights. All I can say is "right on!" Christmas has a blatant consumer side, and this movie doesn't shy away from that. Instead, it revels in it, while driving the point home. Or should I say “driving the point to one of its two swapped homes.”
The conceit of “The Holiday,” which could actually take place during Easter or summer vacation, is that two very smart, capable, attractive, and blond women are unlucky in love. Even though Cameron Diaz (Amanda) owns a successful film-production company that creates trailers for blockbuster movies, she’s unable to see the predictable plot points that will befall her. After learning that she has been cheated on by her no-good boyfriend, Ethan (portrayed by Ed Burns), Amanda does what any self-supporting, self-funding, self-directed woman would do: She decides to run away from home.
Amanda’s home is not a simple abode with a roof, some walls, and a few palm trees. This L.A. lady has a manse that defies description. It is beyond luxurious and state-of-the-art. If Architectural Digest magazine had a centerfold, Amanda’s house would be it. Scratch that—it wouldn’t just be the centerfold. It would be Architectural Digest’s Penthouse Playhouse of the Year! Still, with her pride and her heart wounded, Amanda decides to bid warm, sunny California good-bye. She sets her cap toward England, and that’s where she swaps real estate and regrets.
Fortunately for Amanda and for us the viewers, Kate Winslet (Iris) is equally as bereft, beautiful, and blond. A wedding columnist for a newspaper—deliberately ironic—poor Iris is madly in love with her piggish work colleague Jasper (Rufus Sewell). Even though they had dated and their relationship hadn’t worked out, Iris is still distraught to learn that he has moved on. In fact, his moving on meant stepping up with a proposal and an engagement ring. The nuptial know-it-all now knows that Jasper wasn’t opposed to marrying. He was just opposed to her as his future wife. (Definite shades of “When Harry Met Sally” and Meg Ryan’s realizations—another comely, capable, blond comedienne!)
These two troubled women fly across the continents to spend their holiday break in one another’s home. Of course, they don’t learn the lesson that most of us would absorb: You can fly beyond your country’s border, but you still end up with yourself. No, that’s not the case her. Instead, both women are gifted with the perfect Christmas dalliances. Amanda gets courted by book editor Graham (Jude Law), who manages to appear sun-kissed, even though he permanently resides in wintry, cold, merry old England. We also know he is super intelligent, because he wears spectacles. Props to the prop department on "The Holiday"! Graham is Iris’s brother and was left out of his sister’s rash decision to bolt across the world. He shows up in a drunken stupor one night at Iris’s fairy-tale cottage—it looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting. Since this is a PG-13/borderline R movie, Graham doesn’t just spend the night at his sis’s house. He spends it in the new leaser’s bed. Yep, Amanda and Graham take the mistletoe custom to a whole new, horizontal level.
This is why “The Holiday” is one of my favorite Christmas films. It has the audacity to present a drunken one-night stand with a stranger as the seeds from which a true romantic garden will grow! Naturally, we find out, just as Amanda does, that Graham isn’t a callous, love-’em-and-leave-’em, promiscuous single man. No, he’s a callous, love-’em-and-leave-’em, promiscuous widowed man. And the father to two adorable urchins, to boot! (Okay, they’re not urchins, but they are in a British Christmas story!)
Meanwhile, in the hot climes of California, Iris is radiant with her newfound wealthy digs. She has landed smack-dab in the center of capitalism and consumerism. What’s not to be glowing about! On top of this, she strikes up a platonic friendship with a kind, mild-mannered, funny guy. Again, this eventual love interest shows up at her doorstep. It’s as if Nancy Meyers was envisioning Grubhub or Uber Eats, but with unexpected love interests as the delivery goal. Iris gets to take it slow and develop a meeting of the minds with Miles Dumont (Jack Black). He’s self-effacing, quick-witted, quirky, and talented. He’s a musical composer, and we know he and Iris are destined to make beautiful music together. She just has to realize it, and he just has to ditch his cheating fiancée. Also, because Black is portly and heavier than most leading men, we the audience are supposed to know that he is bound to be more caring, faithful, and loyal. Sort of like a sloppy, overly affectionate St. Bernard.
All of the outcomes are telecast from a mile away. Yet, even knowing that Iris will succumb to Miles, and Amanda will fall for Graham, the movie is entertaining and enjoyable. It’s all due to the strengths and abandonment that the leads bring to their characters. For not one moment did I ever believe that Cameron Diaz knew how to operate the editing bay for her company’s next trailer project—a movie called Deception, starring Lindsay Lohan and James Franco. However, she committed to sitting behind her team of employees and looked adorably exasperated and anxious as they turned knobs and pushed buttons. We could all see that she was at wit’s end because the film was slated to open on Christmas Day, which was just a few heartbeats away.
The quartet that makes up the main love stories—Diaz, Law, Winslet, and Black—are all in the zone. Black is rotund and relatable; he’s the nice guy next-door, even though Winslet has had to fly thousands of miles to meet him. Likewise, Law is the elusive unicorn: a good-looking, brainy widower, with two daughters who don’t resent stepparenting, who still conducts himself like a tiger on the prowl. What a Christmas miracle that his lecherous ways coincided with Diaz’s equally morally-bankrupt behavior. It’s as if Santa personally reviewed his naughty list, and decided to give these two a nice and proper ending. (Fill in your own “happy ending” joke if you want.)
To me, “The Holiday” is a great Christmas recommendation because it out-Hallmarks Hallmark with gorgeously set-decorated homes, costumes, and lapses of logic. It is a movie that exists in its very own expensive, conspicuous-consumption dimension and sets its own moral compass, which is 180 degrees from what most holiday romances allow. It’s like the anti-holiday holiday rom-com. In this film, people cheat, couple, lie, and lust all over the place. Plus, it has the amazing Eli Wallach as a crotchety yet lovable alter cocker (old fart), too!