Pretty, Vacant

A horribly contrived and echoingly empty confluence of ‘Christmas movie’ and ‘chick flick’, The Holiday marks the return of What Women Want and Something’s Gotta Give writer and director, former studio executive Nancy Meyers; a lady who knows more about demographics than she does cinema and who, it would appear, is immune to voodoo. It’s either that or I haven’t been sticking the pins in far enough.

A series of short vignettes introduce us to the four main characters. Amanda (Cameron Diaz) owns a Los Angeles company making movie trailers and has recently broken up with her two-timing boyfriend (Ed Burns, briefly). On the other side of the Atlantic we meet lovelorn London journalist Iris (Kate Winslet), finally getting over her unrequited love, the caddish Jasper (Rufus Sewell). It’s Christmas, and neither woman can face being alone, so they decide, during the course of a quick internet exchange, to swap houses for two weeks. Now, you’ll stop me there. Isn’t that Tara Road? Yes, it is.

Enter the men, Jude Law and Jack Black; a singleton London book editor and a piano-playing soundtrack composer respectively. The unholy coming together of the two couples is arranged in a series of ‘meet cutes’. Meyers later wheels out the great Eli Wallach as an elderly Hollywood writer, to explain what she means, and have a pop at the current state of studio cinema while he’s at it. There’s a heartbreaking irony in this turn of events. Wallach’s character makes a tear-jerking speech at a Writers Guild of America function arranged in his honour, the same Guild that met in arbitration to discuss the authorship of The Holiday. The WGA eventually gave the credit to Meyers, although both Maeve Binchy and Helen Fielding’s names must have come up at some stage.

Diaz, who is lovely to look at, is insufferable to watch; playing a dizzy, air-headed blonde without a screed of plausibility, shrill and clumsy and wooden. Her disastrous performance aside, the chatter she is asked to express is choice. Detailing her urgent need for a vacation she trills the line, “I want to eat carbs without wanting to kill myself”. If you are the kind of woman to whom this magazine-article line rings true, you really need to talk to somebody. Winslet comes out the better of the two female leads, but there’s only a hair between them. She bears the contrivances well enough, and certainly perks up later on, but it is sad to see such talent wasted. Jude Law plays Jude Law, but with extra mischievous twinkle and later, a whole heap of blubbing pathos. He has never been more irritating. Jack Black, whose appearance as a romantic lead initially gives hope to something out of the ordinary, ruins it by doing that terrible improvised singing thing he does. By the third time he opened his gurning yap, pap-skip-skap-skoodly-doo, I was half way out of my seat, until some greater power, call it a sense of duty or ingrained masochism, forced me to stay put.

The film’s pretence that it shares a heritage with the classic Hollywood screwball comedies of the Golden Age is as inappropriate as it is desperate. Meyer’s approach to sparkling wordplay is to have one character jabber on for two incomprehensible minutes, then have the other character say something pithy, like ‘Exactly!” Failing that, there’s always a reaction shot from a dog. It is pure drivel. The director’s plotting is even less sophisticated, with every well-forecasted, painstakingly arranged plot point driven home as if at the head of a sledgehammer. Deathly bland and false, The Holiday is as bad a film as I have seen all year. Whether it works as a romance or not is a matter of individual taste, but it cannot be a comedy unless it contains jokes. Actual gags, not the exhausted Black or the dippy Diaz routine. A special mention is reserved for Hans Zimmer’s outrageously syrupy score, a constant meander of plinking piano designed to reinforce emotions the cast are simply unable to muster themselves. Like everything else on display, it is nauseating.


Sinéad said...

Oh indeed, tis horrific. And everyone gets geographically stereotypical homes when they house swap don't they? Yep, the bucolic English cottage and the swanky LA pad. No stereotypes there then. A review in the UK Independent said the film was guilty of "property porn", a description I quite like.

colm said...

this seems to have been universally panned.

thank you john for saving me from the inevitability of getting dragged along to this by the wife over christmas.

you weren't forceful enough about "starter for ten" which was one bullet i was unable to dodge!