What To Watch: Christmas Rom-Com Done Right in ‘The Holiday’

The Holiday is a 2006 Christmas romantic comedy about two women troubled with guy-problems who swap homes in each other’s countries, where they each meet a local guy and fall in love.

Let’s get sappy. It’s Christmas after all and I’m feeling a little in the spirit. To be sure, I’m not much of a rom-com guy, avoiding most and finding the ones I do have to sit through pretty forgettable. Sure, once in awhile, something comes along that hits the spot, say for example, When Harry Met Sally or About Time (a movie that is actually a drama about a father and son disguised as a rom-com), but these are far and few between.

Come Christmas, the market gets overrun by these titles, jumping on the hay-wagon as it were, with mediocre movies that play right into the tropes, knowing that most audiences are looking only for a sugary hit with no surprises. It’s sort of a tradition now, like eggnog and cheesy sweaters. However, and you already know where this is going, I kinda fell a little love with Nancy Meyers‘ unexpectedly charming The Holiday, a clever and well-written romance that I find endlessly satisfying no matter how many times I watch. Here’s why.

The Holiday
The Holiday, 2006 © Columbia Pictures

It’s not about one frustrated and disappointed young woman about to give up on romance, but two. The first is Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet), a talented writer living in a cottage in Surrey who works for The Daily Telegraph in London. She’s over the edge for a co-worker named Jasper (Rufus Sewell) but you know right away, he’s no good, cheating and keeping her on a see-saw of break-ups and get-togethers. When she learns he’s now engaged, well, it devastates her and she has some trouble get her life back on track. Meanwhile, In Los Angeles, there is Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz). She works on making movie trailers and puts her job first, but also discovers her long-time boyfriend Ethan (Edward Burns) hasn’t been all that faithful. Humiliated, she dumps him and decides she needs some time away for the holidays. Finding Iris on a home-exchange website, the two hit it off and a two-week swap is arranged.

So right away you can where this is going, and sure, it’s pretty obvious but I really like Meyers’ writing, from her debut way back in 1980 with Goldie Hawn‘s Private Benjamin to the Anna Hathaway comedy The Intern. In fact, it’s the dialogue and delivery in The Holiday that makes it one step above what is really ought to be – a disposable Christmas filler.

The Holiday
The Holiday, 2006 © Columbia Pictures

Both women meet men of course. In LA, Iris meets cute with Miles Dumont (Jack Black), Ethan’s assistant and the two bond, mostly over an elderly neighbor named Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), a former Hollywood screenwriter from the Golden Age of cinema. Back in England, Amanda gets kinda bored with the quiet country living but finds herself a little more into the scene when the handsome Graham (Jude Law), Iris’s brother, unexpectedly stops by. He’s a little rosey from a night at the pub and so asks to stay the night, and well, one thing leads to another, and yup, they get busy in all the right ways.

The Holiday
The Holiday, 2006 © Columbia Pictures

Aside from the chemistry between these four leads, the story is refreshingly deep and character-driven. Conflicts and complications present some hurdles, however, there’s nothing to ebb this charismatic wave once it gets set in motion. Diaz is supremely well cast, a talented and beautiful actress who has always had a terrific flare for physical comedy. She’s a bit fearless in her performances and earns a few well-deserved laughs throughout. What many will find more surprising though is Black, who plays it incredibly subdued, toning back his usual hyper-kinetic acting style for a softer, more subtle take. It’s almost disarming as you look at him and think, you know, he’s kind of a great leading man.

Like most Christmas movies, The Holiday isn’t looking to challenge its audience. This is a sweet and sentimental from the start and has a singular purpose. Too many holiday movies tend to be hostile, angry, or full of embittered characters stuffed with clichés and empty promise. The excellent cast and sharp direction make this a sure bet for a fun, heartwarming Christmas watch, easily recommended.

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