The romantic comedy used to be a box-office slam dunk and for well over a decade (since Pretty Woman brought the genre back to the forefront), rom-coms (as they are known) have meant money in the bank. However, the guaranteed nature of these films may be going away. Just this year, we've seen the surprisingly lackluster openings of Catch and Release and Music and Lyrics. The Holiday premiered over the holiday season in 2006, and despite a star-studded cast and a noted writer/director, the film struggled in theaters. Is this a sign of things to come? As The Holiday hits DVD, we can now study how this film features many of the pros and cons of the modern-day romantic comedy.
The Holiday focuses on a group of characters who are struggling with relationships. Iris (Kate Winslet) writes for a London newspaper and she's in love with her co-worker, Jasper (Rufus Sewell), with who she's had an on-again/off-again relationship. That relationship appears to be decidedly off-again when it's announced at the company Christmas party that Jasper is engaged to another member of the staff. Not surprisingly, Iris is devastated. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Amanda (Cameron Diaz) suspects her boyfriend, Ethan (Edward Burns), and this leads her to realize that she doesn't love him anymore. Desperate for a change of scenery, Amanda goes on-line and finds a home exchange program, and one of the homes listed is Iris'. The two women chat on-line and soon arrange to exchange houses for two weeks.
When Amanda arrives in England, she's surprised to find that Iris' house is quite isolated and that she doesn't like being alone. She's about to return home to America, when she meets Graham (Jude Law) and immediately attracted to him. At the same time, Iris can hardly believe how beautiful not only Southern California is, but Amanda's home as well. Despite some residual blues, she immediately dives into the lap of luxury (and the pool!). Iris soon meets Miles (Jack Black), a friend of Ethan's who has dropped in to retrieve Ethan's laptop. The two connect immediately. Iris also meets Arthur (Eli Wallach), her elderly neighbor who just happens to be a famous screenwriter.
Amanda knows that her time in England is short, but this doesn't stop her from falling into the arms of Graham. Iris befriends Arthur and offers to help him with a project, and she finds that every time she's around Miles, she likes the man more and more. What will the two women who were running away from love do in their respective situations?
The Holiday comes from writer/director Nancy Meyers, who's somewhat of a leader in the field of romantic comedies, most notably those featuring adults as opposed to teenagers. While her films are rarely brief or stream-lined, they are generally well-balanced. But with The Holiday, Meyers has bitten off more than she can chew. This feels like two (maybe even three) movies crammed into one and the film often loses focus. We've got Amanda's story, Iris' story, and then the plotline in which Iris befriends the kindly old Arthur feels like an entirely different movie. Perhaps blame should also lie on editor Joe Hutshing, as the film alternates between the various stories, but can never find a consistent rhythm. At some points, the film stays with a certain character for too long, and then when one is actually ready to see that character again, the film delays this. It's ironic that two of the characters in this poorly edited film are editors.
The movie also miscalculates what the audiences wants to, or is willing to see. Americans love stories about the wealthy, but these stories must be presented in such a way so that the audience isn't alienated. The Holiday trips up here. We don't necessarily want to see beautiful and rich Cameron Diaz complain about her inability to get a boyfriend, while living in her huge house, who then has the means to jet off to England to escape from her troubles. The situation isn't helped when Amanda arrives in England and continues to complain. This may work on MTV's "My Super Sweet 16", but it doesn't here.
But, The Holiday isn't a total loss, thanks to Jack Black and Jude Law. To quote my wife, "It's a shame that the chick flick didn't get good until the men arrived." Whereas Amanda is annoying and Iris is a bit dull, Miles and Graham breathe life into the film. Law keeps things simple by playing a polite and somewhat dashing British gentleman. Black tones things way down and comes across as a humble, insecure man...although he does break into his typical Jack Black schtick in a few scenes. These men both center the film and give us characters to whom the audience can truly cling. But, here again, the editing is called into question. Once we really get to know Graham, and Amanda begins to soften, the movie cuts away from their storyline and seemingly leaps ahead in time. (Speaking of which, the "two weeks" in the movie feels like years.)
Just as the main characters in The Holiday are rejecting their everyday lives, the movie wants to push away the viewer at the outset. But, if you stick with the film, and wade through the subplots, the last hour is satisfying and contains both some touching and funny moments.
The Holiday jets away to DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Given that this is a recently released studio film, the transfer is somewhat weak. While the image is free from grain and defects from the source material, it certainly lacks detail at times. The picture is often soft and in some shots, hazy. Artifacting defects crop out throughout the film. On the positive side, colors are good and some of the landscape shots in England have a very nice depth.
The audio here isn't stellar, but it fares better than the video. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a romantic comedy, the bulk of the audio is limited to the center and front channels. The musical cues and incidental music in the film do filter in from the rear speakers at times, as does some crowd noise. The bass response was negligible.
The Holiday DVD contains only two extras. We starts with an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring writer/director Nancy Meyers, composer Hans Zimmer, production designer Jon Hutman, and editor Joe Hutshing. To be quite honest, this commentary is quite dull. The speakers talk in hushed tones and don't seem very excited about the content. Their comments are very dry and stick mainly to the technical facts about the film and the locations. Meyers does make some comments about the actors and how some parts of the story come from her life. The other extra is "Foreign Exchange: The Making of The Holiday" (18 minutes). This is a fairly standard featurette with some clips, a smattering of on-set footage, and comments from the cast and crew. We get an overview of the story and background on the characters.
There's nothing wrong with a veteran filmmaker having artistic leeway on a project, but Nancy Meyers lets The Holiday run about 30 minutes and 2 subplots too long. The movie is like a marathon of romantic comedy, but patient viewers will be rewarded with some genuinely satisfying moments...once the men arrive.