March 30, 2007
It’s scary to think that Nancy Meyers is the most financially successful female filmmaker in a male-dominated Hollywood. With audience-friendly efforts like What Women Want (2000) and Something’s Gotta Give (2003), that have grossed over $500 million worldwide combined, she is able to attract big name talent like Mel Gibson, Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson which in turn attracts major studio interest who are willing to put up significant budgets for them. What is the appeal of her movies? For Baby Boomers, her films are throwbacks to classic Hollywood romantic comedies where everyone looks beautiful and all of their problems are neatly resolved by the film’s conclusion. She makes entertaining escapist fare that is quite witty – especially compared to typical brainless, low-brow efforts like Date Movie (2006), Little Man (2006) or Norbit (2007) that the major studios predominantly release into multiplexes on a regular basis. In some respects, Meyers’ films are a much needed breath of fresh air because they fly in the face of what dominates the mainstream cinematic landscape.
Her latest film, The Holiday (2006), has a fairly promising premise: two women who live on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean lead unhappy love lives. In England, Iris (Winslet) is still in love with her ex-boyfriend Jasper (Sewell) and fellow journalist at the newspaper in which they both work at (well, she writes wedding announcements). The final straw comes when the editor of the paper announces Jasper’s engagement to another woman (incidentally, a fellow co-worker). In Los Angeles, movie trailer editor Amanda (Diaz) breaks up with her composer boyfriend Ethan (Burns) after he has sex with his receptionist. He even has the balls to put some of the blame on her.
Both women decide that they need a change of location in the form a vacation. Amanda surfs the Internet and finds a website that allows one to rent a house in another country. She comes across Iris’ cottage in Surrey and they decide to do a house exchange and swap residences for two weeks. Amanda and Iris waste no time getting acclimatized to their respective environments. Amanda learns how to navigate British streets in her rental car and gets used to her cozy, low-tech cottage (which allows Diaz to showcase her excellent knack for physical comedy). Iris, on the other hand, revels in her ultra-modern house complete with a pool and an impressive DVD library. Iris meets Miles (Black), a film composer buddy of Jasper’s, while Amanda meets Graham (Law), Iris’ slightly roguish big brother. Sparks fly between both couples and unlikely romances gradually blossom.
It’s so nice to see Kate Winslet in a contemporary romantic comedy as she’s usually known for dramatic period pieces. She is completely at home in this kind of a movie, coming across as warm and charming in a very endearing performance that is indicative of the overall tone of The Holiday. Jude Law is cast against type (lately, at least) as he usually plays cads (see Alfie, Closer, etc.). In this film, Graham is a decent guy with two cute little girls and a perchance for crying during emotional moments. Jack Black shows surprising restraint as he reigns in his usual shtick, playing a good guy who, like Iris, is a bit of an emotional doormat. In contrast, Amanda and Graham have messy romantic histories and aren’t looking for anything serious.
Meyers quickly establishes the contrasting personalities of the two women by the way they deal with their respective break-ups. Iris can’t stop crying about it while Amanda is the exact opposite (summed up in an amusing montage where she tries to shed a tear). Meyers has a real knack for writing scenes between two people as they get to know each other that is entertaining and flows with a natural, easygoing rhythm. I always think of the scene in Something’s Gotta Give where Diane Keaton and Keanu Reeves’ characters go out on a dinner date and have this lovely conversation. The Holiday has more of the same as Meyers creates engaging characters that you root for and want to see get together. This is the epitome of a comfort film, an extremely pleasant time waster that you will be guaranteed to lose yourself in for a couple of hours.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director Nancy Meyers, composer Hans Zimmer, production designer John Hutman and editor Joe Hutshing. She talks about the challenges of establishing her ensemble cast early on in the film. Zimmer speaks about how he composed the theme songs for both Iris and Arthur (Wallach) while also having to worry about scoring the rest of the movie. Hutman talks about things like Iris’ cottage and how they built it from scratch just outside of London in order to save money. Being a writer, Meyers also touches upon various aspects like dialogue, character development and casting choices in this decent track.
Also included is your standard making of featurette entitled, “Foreign Exchange: The Making of The Holiday.” There is the usual assortment of soundbites from Meyers and her cast gushing about each other mixed with clips from the movie itself. This is a pleasant enough extra but feels like an over-extended trailer.