Saturday, July 14, 2007

Movie Review: The Holiday

After a steady diet of heavy, meaningful movies like "Little Children" and "Volver," I decided I needed more lighthearted fare. So I NetFlixed "The Holiday." The previews made it look like fun, mindless entertainment: Two women swap houses for the Christmas holiday. One (Cameron Diaz) gets a charming English cottage; the other (Kate Winslet) gets an incredible L.A. mansion. And the movie has a solid cast: Kate Winslet, mega-biscuit Jude Law, Jack Black, Edward Burns and semi-biscuit Rufus Sewell. And Cameron Diaz. Who destroys the film.

You know, I've never felt that strongly one way or another about Miss Diaz. She's always seemed kind of innocuous, like a big Labrador Retriever puppy: cute, gangly, and fun to hang out with. She upstaged Julia Roberts in "My Best Friend's Wedding." She did more-than-solid comedic work in "There's Something About Mary." And, most notably, she was great in "Being John Malkovich"--in part for her completely willingness to let herself be made up to look totally frumpy. (We won't mention the "Charlie's Angels" films. I won't even link to them. Sure, I've only seen bits of those travesties, but I resent the moments of my life that I lost watching them.)

So imagine my surprise and disappointment to see her suck absolutely all of the life out of "The Holiday." She didn't deliver a single believable line reading. Not one. Maybe it wasn't her fault: she was totally miscast as Amanda, the uptight owner of a movie trailer production company.

Fortunately, her scenes are saved by the fact that she gets to play most of them opposite the utterly tasty Jude Law, who--in addition to being photographed mostly in golden tones that filled me with rather unholy emotions--manages to make you believe that 1) he's in love with the annoying Amanda and 2) he's a nice guy, despite what you've read in the tabloids about his fondness for his kids' nannies.

For example. His character Graham (Iris' brother) tells us that he cries at the drop of a hat...whereas Amanda can't cry at all. Oooh. Irony. Whatever. I cried when I saw Diaz wearing a bra in one of her sex scenes with Law. Who wears a bra when they're in bed with Jude Law? Even Kate Winslet let us see her boobs in "Little Children," because she knows that women don't have sex wearing underwire. (The following photo isn't that scene. But it shows Jude being all sheepish and adorable and hoping that we'll remember him for his other, better movies.)

(Photo courtesy of 楊曼妮的閒晃世界Mani Yang's lounging world. Some rights reserved.)

Luckily, the movie has Kate Winslet, who seems as incapable of turning in a bad performance as Diaz seems unable to stop mugging. As Iris, the lovesick writer of a wedding column for the Daily Telegraph, Winslet easily has you rooting for her to dump Jasper (Rufus Sewell), the object of her unrequited love, in favor of Miles, played by the strangely subdued Jack Black. Black plays his scenes as if he can't quite believe the script isn't giving him a chance to improvise.

For my tastes, director Nancy Meyers (of "Something's Gotta Give" and "What Women Want") should have cut down the subplot about Iris befriending an aging old-studio Hollywood screenwriter (Eli Wallach), but she seems to want to use this B-story to comment on "what's happened to the movies." Her own being Exhibit A.

Seriously. What happened to the romantic comedy genre? Is it just totally dead? I think it's been replaced by movies like Judd Apatow's truly funny "Knocked Up," which, in all its R-rated glory, manages to convey how relationships really are: messy, off-color and full of all sorts of unacceptable emotions and bodily fluids.

In "The Holiday," Nancy Meyers doesn't seem to want her characters to get their hands (or their emotions) dirty. The movie may be glossy fun, but it's deeply dishonest. It left me feeling like I'd just eaten a Safeway peach: beautiful on the outside, but tasteless and dry once you bite into it.

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