The rom-com has traditionally featured an alpha couple and a beta couple. This allowed the alpha couple do the serious mooning about, while the beta couple handled the comedy and dispensed sound, often snarky, advice. However, since Richard Curtis’s successful if frequently painful Love, Actually, there’s been an attempt to get more people in on the act. Which brings us to one of those transatlantic rom-coms with a couple of Hollywood stars and a couple of Brits, each side playing to the other’s stereotyped view of what an American/Brit is. The Brits are a journalist at the tweedy Daily Telegraph (Kate Winslet) and a book editor (Jude Law); meanwhile, from California, USA, we have an editor of film trailers (Cameron Diaz) and a composer of movie music (Jack Black). The back-of-a-napkin plot drops Diaz into chocolate-boxy England, where she quickly meets-cute with Jude Law, and Winslet into you-guys Hollywood, where she hooks up with Jack Black.
The Holiday is written and directed by Nancy Meyers, who with her husband Charles Shyer has been knocking out this sort of thing going back to 1980’s Private Benjamin. However, she’s on her own this time out and seems to be in nostalgic mood. Which might explain the presence of Eli Wallach, as an old Hollywood screenwriter Winslet strikes up a friendship with when she’s not making lukewarm eyes at Black. Wallach’s presence is initially mystifying, until the penny drops (nudged by clips of black and white movies, plus Wallach’s homilies) and it becomes apparent that, in among the love stuff, Meyers is making a point about old Hollywood versus new. How much better the old Hollywood was, because it was writer driven. And how The Holiday fits right in with that old Hollywood tradition. The first point (old was better) is debatable. The second (it was writer driven) is nonsense. The third (this is an old school film) is hooey – you couldn’t get more new Hollywood than this, the way it cannibalises old ideas and pays lip service to writing.
However, the performances. Well, Diaz’s gift for delivering energy doesn’t desert her, and Jude Law rises to the occasion, making their flirting and fornication – hey, new Hollywood – fun, funny, sexy and tender. Winslet and Black fare less well, their chemistry just not there, and perhaps they’re bridling slightly at the realisation that they are, in fact, the beta couple. Ultimately, the film’s minuses overwhelm its several pluses, the misinterpretation by Meyers of what exactly old Hollywood was about having led her to write characters who are all entirely without blemish – in fact you can watch The Holiday and imagine an indie film somewhere which features more credible versions of Cameron and Jack and Kate and Jude – drunk and sex-addicted, in therapy or rehab. Or you can watch The Philadelphia Story and see what Meyers thought she was heading.
© Steve Morrissey 2006