The holidays are a time in which people come together with family and friends to celebrate as a new year approaches and reflect upon all that has come and gone in the year passed. Sometimes, seasonal nostalgia can call attention to the people and things we have lost and things we would have liked to have changed in the last year, lending us just the gumption we need to alter our lives for the better. In the 2006 romantic comedy The Holiday, the holiday spirit proves to be just the inspiration that two women need to learn to live life to the fullest all year long.
The film starts with British newspaper reporter Iris (Kate Winslet) ending her year on a decidedly low note when the ex-boyfriend (Rufus Sewell) she is still struggle to get over announces his engagement to Iris’ co-worker. Half-way across the world in Los Angeles, movie trailer producer Amanda proves similarly unlucky in love when she learns that her live-in boyfriend (Edward Burns) has been having an affair with his much younger secretary. While each woman pursues her own course of grieving, with Iris despondently blaming herself and Amanda fuming at her boyfriend’s betrayal, both find themselves searching for a way to get away from their fraught love lives and both find their answer in the same place; the internet. Amanda spots Iris’ online ad for a home-exchange vacation and the pair agree to swap lives for two weeks over the holidays, marking the start of a whimsical journey in which each will find new friendships, a renewed sense of self, and of course, a little romance.
While romantic comedies have long been a holiday staple, The Holiday succeeds as a year-round crowd pleaser by transcending both the holiday and romantic comedy genres. Although on its surface the film appears to be a typical tale of love lost and found just in time for the holidays, the script is actually an empowering tale of two people searching for things that they ultimately find within themselves. Iris is so lacking in confidence that she continues to pursue a man who had previously been unfaithful to her and clearly only maintains contact with her in order to utilize the free editing she does on his novel. In an opposite characterization, Amanda has become so accustomed to being the strong one in her relationships that she has lost touch with her own vulnerability and her ability to cry. Despite their vast differences, both women engage in behavior patterns that prevent them from growing while either single or in a relationship. As a result, it is their common struggle to accept themselves and live life on their own terms, rather than their search for love, that is the film’s central conflict. Although both do eventually find romance, they do so only incidentally, as the film remains firmly focused upon its heroines’ personal development. The film also avoids the rom-com cliché of love interests solving all of the story’s problems. While both Amanda’s charming beaux, Graham (Jude Law), and Iris’ endearing flame, Miles (Jack Black) are enjoyable characters, the script makes them three dimensional men rather than stereotypical ‘knights in shining armor’ by revealing their shortcomings and insecurities as well as their strengths. This in turn makes the relationships between both couples more interesting and realistic than the paint by numbers plotting of many romantic comedies. While the holiday ambiance adds to the film’s whimsy and romantic atmosphere, its central messages of ‘believe in yourself’ and ‘be open to life’ are ones that resonate throughout the year, making The Holiday a cinematic vacation that viewers can enjoy any time.
One of the more unique aspects of the film is the way in which the script pays homage to the romantic comedies of the 1930’s and 1940’s. While the life-swap premise already lends itself to screwball antics, the film takes its nod to the classics a step further by making numerous references to classic films and the men and women who brought them to life. The most obvious of these cinematic connections comes in the form of Amanda’s elderly screenwriter neighbor, Arthur, whom Iris quickly befriends. Played by classic screen veteran Eli Wallach, Arthur offers nostalgic insight into Hollywood’s Golden Age and serves as a mentor to Iris by encouraging her to follow the example of the no-nonsense female protagonists of his favorite films. The film’s music also adds a classic touch through the focus upon Miles’ job as a film composer and the old-fashioned sensibility of the film’s soundtrack. As a result, the film serves as a valentine to not only the holiday season, and love, but also to film itself.
The cast keeps the laughs and sparks flying throughout the film’s running time. Cameron Diaz makes Amanda an endearing combination of comic cuteness and inner strength, making her a protagonist that audiences would want to take a holiday with. Similarly, Kate Winslet imbues Iris, who could have been a one-note role, with an intelligence, wit, and kindness that make her a heroine that cannot help rooting for. Jude Law adds a level of vulnerability to his usual charm that makes Graham a truly irresistible love interest and Jack Black brings an unassuming quality to his role which, combined with his expected hilarity, makes Miles the boy we all wish lived next door to us. Finally, Eli Wallach adds just the right touch of wisdom, whimsy, and gentle humor to his role as Arthur.
Feel-good, breezy, and charming The Holiday is the rare modern romantic comedy that succeeds as both a romance and a comedy. Through its combination of slapstick set-ups and dry wit the script brings a freshness to the genre while successfully paying homage to the genre’s past greats. The members of the cast each utilize their unique strengths to bring their roles to surprisingly realistic life, while still maintaining the film’s romantic idealism. You don’t need to travel to get away from it all with The Holiday in your film lineup.
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