You may have underestimated The Holiday. You may have thought that a film about two hot women house-swapping and finding love at Christmas isn’t the cinematic masterpiece your heart has been crying out for. You’re wrong.
The first thing to understand here is that Christmas movies are different. They exist in an entirely different realm to your summer blockbusters or autumnal Oscar bait. They’re not there to be clever, or provide startling insight into the human condition. They’re there to wrap you up in a tinsel-tousled, pine needle-covered, nutmeg-smelling ball of Yuletide bliss so tight that you just can’t fight it, no matter how schmaltzy it gets. The usual rubrics for film criticism just don’t apply.
The Holiday is the best at what it does because it throws in a super-stuffed stocking’s worth of clichés at you, and still manages to charm the Santa hat off you. Walking the line between overly saccharine and downright dour is difficult; but with a winning cast, a genuinely decent plot and Jude Law putting a napkin on his head (more on that later), The Holiday gets it just right.
Cameron Diaz is Amanda, a sunny LA film trailer editor (hallooo, textbook rom-com career!) who’s just broken up with her two-timing boyfriend. Kate Winslet’s Iris is a journalist enduring not only an horrendous Surrey-London commute and the reality of working for the Telegraph, but also unrequited love for her douchebag boss. The two decide to house-swap using a beautifully pre-Airbnb website and wham-bam, Bob’s your uncle. Before you know it, they’re both on their way across the Atlantic to holiday heaven.
A Christmas movie partially set in LA is a little unorthodox, but it’s more than just a bone thrown to the winter escapists out there. Though, to be honest, who wouldn’t want to flee overdone turkey and drizzle by heading to a Beverly Hills mansion? The location switch gives perennial English rose Winslet (see what we did there) a chance to sparkle in the sunshine. Forget the turkey, she has more than enough to chew on stateside, between getting to grips to remote control blinds and being romanced by movie scorer Miles (the ever-charming Jack Black). There’s a truly wonderful, and nicely meta, subplot of her befriending veteran Hollywood scriptwriter Arthur (played by Hollywood veteran Eli Wallach) and saving him from fading into obscurity. We also get to see cameos by baby John Krasinski, pre-Emily Blunt and pre-Jim Halpert, and an unplanned cameo by Dustin Hoffman. Only in LA.
Across the pond, Cameron Diaz has nearly as much fun, embarking on an unwise affair with Iris’ brother Graham, aka Jude Law. Though her stay in Iris’ snowy Surrey cottage isn’t quite as luxurious, it brings the much-needed hygge factor to the film. Fun fact: the snow is actually real despite the crew hiring a snow machine because, come on, when does it ever snow in England on Christmas? It’s not long before a much-needed ‘Mr Brightside’ rock-out and a sozzled nighttime appearance by Graham start to shake things up.
Needless to say, both Jack Black and Jude Law emit oodles of charm, but what really works is the way the two respective relationships unfold. Unbelievably for a Christmas movie, The Holiday sticks firmly to the “show don’t tell” maxim, leaving ample room for good old-fashioned conversations to reveal the connection and chemistry between Iris and Miles, and Amanda and Graham. Writer/director/all-round-goddess Nancy Meyers obviously knows what she’s doing, but her willingness to let these surprisingly moving and truthful scenes play out really pays off. Witness Iris’ devastating monologue to Miles on the humiliation and desperation of unrequited love and dare your heart not to break along with hers.
When it’s later revealed that Graham is (spoiler!) not the fun-loving bachelor he appears to be but instead a grieving widower with two young daughters, you somehow don’t feel emotionally manipulated. Maybe it’s the amount of brandy you’ve consumed while watching, but more likely it’s that the writing is honest and heartfelt enough not to cloy, and that the performances by Diaz and Law are pitch-perfect. To return to Jude Law and napkins, “Mr Napkin Head” is Graham’s party trick of choice for his daughters, and its ridiculousness speaks to the fun and warmth of The Holiday’s script. Plus, seeing J-Law (no, not that one) with a napkin on his head complete with glasses is truly a moment to treasure.
At the end of the film, everything has turned out beautifully. Screenwriter and all-round mensch Arthur gets his Writers’ Guild ceremony, Amanda and Graham have worked out the long distance, and Iris and Miles are together with them for New Year’s Eve. That’s just how Christmas movies work, but The Holiday has a way of getting under your skin. So whatever your apprehensions may, even if your entire being is screaming out for you to watch Die Hard for the umpteenth time, give it a try.
And of course, if you really can’t stand it, you can always make like Jude Law and shove a napkin on your head…