December 6-12, 2006

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'The Holiday'

Photograph by Simon Mein
Driving on the right: Cameron Diaz distracts Jude Law on the road in 'The Holiday.'

Trading Places

In 'The Holiday,' the only thing more interesting than sex is real estate

By Richard von Busack

WITH A budget almost as high as its concept, The Holiday doesn't cheat the viewer. What it lacks in personality and spice, it makes up in size. Director/writer Nancy Meyers loves the golden era of cinema, when laughs were got with character rather than gross-outs. The Holiday is so very clean, in fact, it goes in the other direction. Kate Winslet plays Iris, a sleeker version of Bridget Jones. She works as a society columnist; at her newspaper, she is plagued with an endless, hopeless crush on a co-worker (Rufus Sewell). He repays her friendship by secretly getting engaged to someone else. Iris dissolves into blubbering at her home, which looks exactly like the image on a Franklin Mint plate: "Famous Literary Cottages of the Cotswolds." Learning about home exchange, Iris swaps her tiny house for two weeks at the L.A. mansion of Amanda (Cameron Diaz), who edits movie trailers. In England, Amanda becomes involved with Jude Law's Graham, a seeming cad with a heart of pure caramel. In the meantime, Iris adopts Arhtur (Eli Wallach), an elderly screenwriting legend, who instructs her on the classic era of movie romance and on 1940s actresses "with gumption." This strength helps Iris conduct a promising friendship with a soundtrack composer named Miles (Jack Black).

The Holiday lacks symmetry; it seems slightly more interested in the England side of affairs, even though Diaz (morphing rapidly into Goldie Hawn) isn't in the same league with Winslet. Maybe what happened was that the camera discovered that Black isn't the stuff of romantic leading material. As Black gets more famous, he'll be facing more roles like this. It's what they tried to do to John Belushi, to denature him a little in the name of a wider audience. (They give Black's Miles some music to love, but now it's all in-one-ear-and-out-the-other movie soundtracks.) The only time Black seems like his old self comes at the end, when he watches two ladies dancing together, and for just an instant, he flashes a familiar dirty glint in his eye. Law is denatured too. He plays a smooth lover-man overwhelmed by the ladies. But there isn't much heat. At one point, Meyers presents Diaz and Law in bed, clothes on, over the covers, bracketed by a pair of chaperones, two Disneyish little girls who are in Law's care. All four lie like tomb effigies—it all looks a little dead.

If Meyers were a prude, she never could have made Something's Gotta Give. And she's not an ax-grinder about the faithlessness of men. This isn't a prudish film, but it's too retro for its own good. The Holiday revisits the antique days when movies were intelligent and quality real estate wasn't astronomical. Unfortunately, it's the real estate that Meyers seems more swoony about. Meyers name-checks The Lady Eve (if you're going to name-check a movie, that's a movie to name-check). This romance seems less like vintage screwball and far more like late-'50s efforts, when CinemaScope was used to show off just how wide a house can get. And the actors all look spotless and rubbery, just as they did in the 1950s; when they kiss, you almost expect them to squeak like rubbed balloons.

Movie Times The Holiday (PG-13; 138 min.), directed and written by Nancy Meyers, photographed by Dean Cundey and starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black, opens Dec. 8.

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