Friday, October 20, 2017

A Film Critic’s Holiday

There’s something to be said for a Nancy Meyers movie. It guarantees that the world is a nice place to live in, and that – when all is said and done – love will find a way. Even if we’re talking about something as basic as love of self, which played a key role in the film for which Meyers earned her first writing credit, 1980’s Private Benjamin. Since then she’s had a share of fifteen other writing credits, including such comedic hits as Baby Boom, Something’s Gotta Give, and It’s Complicated. She also directed the last two films on this list, as well as four others. After a grueling week, a colleague of mine named Madeira James (the web genius behind suggested I relax by watching her favorite Meyers film, The Holiday. And so I did.

The Holiday (2006) certainly makes for agreeable company. It’s a Christmas movie of sorts, though half of it is set in a sunny SoCal where the Santa Ana winds blow warm and the affluent splash in their swimming pools year ‘round. (There’s also an impromptu Chanukah party, which I found an endearing touch.) Here’s the basic premise: two attractive youngish women are unhappy in love. Kate Winslet is an English newspaper reporter hopelessly in love with a co-worker who relies on her editorial skills while quietly getting engaged to someone else. She lives in a charming country cottage in Surrey, one I don’t think she could possibly afford. Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz is a workaholic with her own  L.A. movie trailer company. She lives in a fabulous mansion, but her live-in is a two-timing creep whom she angrily tosses from the premises as the movie begins. Since neither Kate nor Cam wants to face the holiday season alone, they link up on a house exchange website. The deal is that each will spend two weeks in the other’s digs before they return to the reality of their own lives.

Of course, this being a Nancy Meyers movie, romance soon rears its head. In that English cottage, Diaz unexpectedly cute-meets hunky Jude Law. Do they bound into bed? Yes, but . . .  it’s complicated. For her part, Winslet (whose sheer joy in discovering Diaz’s swanky surroundings is contagious) meets . . . Eli Wallach? This is not the last film made by the ageless Wallach, who died in 2014 at the age of 98. He must have been about 90 as he took on the role of Arthur Abbott, a crotchety Hollywood screenwriter whose credits go back to the Golden Age. (According to The Holiday,  he was part of the team involved in writing Casablanca, having added the invaluable word “kid” to the deathless “Here’s looking at you.”) Now the Writers Guild wants to hold a big bash in his honor, but he’s too embarrassed by his physical frailty to accept the idea. That is, of course, until Winslet steps up and whips him into shape, paving the  way for a triumphant evening in which he abandons his walker and almost leaps up to the podium to give his acceptance speech. 

Here’s one of many areas in which The Holiday doesn’t make much logical sense. Two weeks are far too short to contain all the activity that this script sets up. But, after all, who’s counting? The actors (including an essential Jack Black) are so charming that we want to believe them. And, despite all the indications to the contrary, we want to believe they can find their happily ever after. Maybe that’s what this film is all about – a holiday from everyday logic.

This one's for Maddee, a delightful and patient lady of many names. If you like the look of my new website, she's the one to thank. 

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