Tuesday, January 15, 2013

#100: The Holiday (2006)

Code-name: Home Exchange

Writer/Director: Nancy Meyers
Type: Chick Flick

Amanda- Cameron Diaz
Graham- Jude Law
Iris- Kate Winslet
Miles- Jack Black
Arthur- Eli Wallach
Jasper- Rufus Sewell
Ethan- Edward Burns


I found this gem a couple of Christmases ago wondering why I hadn’t checked into it sooner. I know and love the cast and c’mon, who doesn’t love a rom-com around the Christmas season? 
One of the best things about this movie is that Christmas acts as the backdrop, so you don't necessarily have to watch it in December. It's a refreshing concept, especially when there are so many movies that take place on Christmas and, by extension, people who get depressed around the holidays might subconsciously link these movies to that feeling. Which isn't good. 
The summary of this movie on the TV guide (whenever its on TBS) includes turns like "contrived" and "fluff" and it only gets about 2 stars. One critique on IMDB claims that it runs long in places. To the latter, I must agree. A couple scenes here and there could be trimmed for pacing. As for the fluff, predictability and all that, it isn't entirely predictable... and I don't think of fluff as a bad thing. Especially with a cast as good as this one. (For the record, not all of my reviews will focus primarily on that, but if you don't like the characters or can't relate to them, you get nowhere pretty fast).

What's nice about this movie is that it examines relationships, where women tend to go wrong and how they can overcome obstacles, who are often themselves. Whether you're a workaholic like Amanda who doesn't take the time to smell the roses and enjoy life, or a romantic like Iris who wants a chance at love and the opportunity to be loved, any woman watching can relate. (The cast in the behind the scenes attributes this to Nancy Meyers, making this one of the few rom-coms written by a woman, fully capturing the female perspective).
Personally, I relate a bit more to Iris because she's a self-proclaimed victim of unrequited love. My high school years revolved around that (with a dash of Amanda's tendency to put business before pleasure). The only difference is that I'd never been in a relationship. She was in one with her co-worker, Jasper, until she found out that he had feelings for someone else. Yet she continues to pine for him and he often asks for her advice on his work, making it impossible to move on. 
 In both cases, our lovely ladies find themselves at rock bottom to start with. Amanda finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her and kicks him out of her ostentatious LA mansion (she owns a company that makes movie trailers). Meanwhile, Jasper announces his own engagement at the newspaper’s Christmas party, leaving Iris devastated.

Ironically (and really, where else will you find this outside of a movie), they find each other on a home exchange website and end up doing just that. So it’s a mix of relationship surfing and “fish out of water” story. All of the funny clichés are there with Amanda navigating London on the wrong side of the road and trudging up a long driveway to Iris’s quaint little cottage. Then of course, Iris inhales Amanda’s mansion without a second thought. Both of them get over their heartbreak with the relationships that follow. 
Amanda falls for Iris’s brother, Graham, played by Jude Law in one of his best roles. (Sadly, that isn’t saying much because what I’d seen of his work so far has been disappointing… a former “Sexiest Man Alive” deserves better than some of those strange roles he plays). They hit it off rather quickly, but as movies tend to do, something comes out that moves things to a standstill. One night she shows up at his doorstep with a bottle of wine and finds he has two young girls. That first time, I was thinking "oh no! don't tell me he's married and leading a double life!"... two movies had me fearing the worst, one of which was "Closer" where one thing he did in the final 10 minutes made me fall instantly out of love with him.
In this particular case, he is a widow and often doesn’t introduce Sophia and Olivia because his relationships tend to be short-lived. Also he's still working on balancing the dating with being a full-time dad. His daughters take to Amanda quickly and complete with the British accents, they are ADORABLE. (In real life, Jude has 3 daughters and this was the first, so far only time, he played a dad on screen... quite the charmer, he is). 
For whatever reason and it isn't fully hashed out, their relationship kinda cools off until a three-way phone call between Graham, Amanda and Iris.

On the other side of the pond, literally, Iris develops a couple friendships of her own. One of her neighbors is Arthur Abbott, an elderly screenwriter who gives her a lot of great advice along the way. He gives her a list of movies to watch, hinting that she ought to be the star in her own life rather than "the best friend" as he calls it at a dinner date they have.
Then there is composer Miles, played by Jack Black, who was the biggest surprise in this film. He plays a lot of the same types of characters, but here, he is so sweet that I could imagine him being a great guy to be in a relationship with. It also puts me under the impression that my ideal guy combines the sweet with the quirky. There's a scene where they're at Blockbuster and he's demonstrating the score for a bunch of random movies. One of which is "The Graduate" and Dustin Hoffman has a quick cameo where he scoffs to himself. It's one of the funniest scenes in the movie (alongside Graham's character "Mr. Napkin-Head... you'd have to see it to believe it).
Oddly enough, the Blockbuster scene leads to a reveal... Miles' actress girlfriend is walking with another guy and she had apparently gotten off set weeks ago without telling him. He and Iris are put to the test with these relationships, both very similar, and in the end, they make the right decision for themselves and each other.

I enjoy the Iris-Miles storyline a bit more because I can relate. Cameron Diaz and Jude Law are both great actors, but their side does drag a bit in places. In the end, they're wondering if they can make this long distance thing work... and clichés ensue... my heart melts that in this particular movie, Jude proves that a man can shed a few tears and still be just as irresistible.

I'm not sure who came up with this, but I'll be one of the first to say it. A cheesy chick flick is good for just about any day, particularly a rainy day where there's nothing else to do. I'd compare to "The Holiday" with cozying up under a blanket either with a cup of hot chocolate and/or by a warm fireplace.

Side-note: who knew Hans Zimmer could write such a tender movie score?

*[to paraphase] If you like what you see, please feel free to leave a comment. If you don't like what you see, please comment all the same 8-)

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