I first watched this movie with my mom when I was a college freshman, home for holiday break in 2007. We rented it from Netflix (mail order DVDs, baby) and watched it the week before Christmas with a few other classics like "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" and "The Muppet Christmas Carol."
For the first ten minutes, we thought it was cute. Iris (Kate Winslet) is charming and who doesn't love her little Surrey cottage? When Amanda (Cameron Diaz) showed up and we were introduced to her whole "I can't cry" bit, everything started to unravel. I don't want to be a dick, but Diaz is a terrible actress; she's about as convincing as a fucking light post. But no matter! I can suspend my disbelief and ignore her overly simplistic interpretation of a high-powered woman in film. She will not ruin this movie for me ... but the horrible voiceover convention might.
Now Graham (Jude Law) has entered the picture and he's spouting off lines like, "l find l tend to hurt women simply by being myself." Sweet Jesus, I don't think I can tolerate this. I'll keep watching because I'm interested in Iris' storyline. Since it's a romantic comedy written and directed by a woman, she'll surely end up with some hot dude who treats her like a queen. Unfortunately, her love interest is Miles (Jack Black), the floppy-headed bag of dicks who oozes smarm. Throw the TV out the window! Set everything on fire! The beautiful houses aren't enough of a reason to watch this festering turd of a movie. Give me my Muppets - I'm sick of this shit.
Fast-forward to holiday break 2008. My mom walks into the living room, glances at me, eyebrows raised, and says, "I thought we hated this movie." Oh, Joni. We did hate this movie and I have no fucking clue why I'm giving it my undivided attention for the second year in a row.
I asked my husband if he would watch with me yesterday so I could take notes for this essay and he was like, "Didn't we watch that pile of shit last year?" Oh, Luke. Yes, yes we did. I watch this movie every single year, despite my perpetual complaints about its quality. Something about it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy even though the dialogue is nonsense, the continuity errors drive me bananas, and the plot is a rushed, overlong disaster. Nancy Meyers is a puppet master and I am the puppet. I'll lap up whatever drivel she throws my way because she is a maestro of lifestyle porn.
Of course, there are the houses. I have zero desire to live in Los Angeles, but I would trade my least favorite cat for Amanda's palatial estate. She has a gate, complete with intercom, to keep out the riff-raff and lives in the same neighborhood as an octogenarian Hollywood legend. There was no doubt a lot of raping going on in Arthur's (Eli Wallach) day, but he's 80 years old now and his penis no longer works, so he's cute and harmless. Wasn't the golden age of cinema magical?
Other household amenities include automatic blinds in the bedroom, an enormous swimming pool (perfect for morning laps), and a media room with cozy chaise lounges and movies for days. I like to imagine myself as an inordinately wealthy, badass CEO of a successful film production company. I'd cut trailers all day, take luxurious bubble baths in a Xanax haze at night. Breaking my bath bombs in half would be a thing of the past! I'd wash at least $7.95 down the drain with each sudsy soak and feel zero remorse.
Iris' house is admittedly less glam than Amanda's, but cozy and lovely in a bohemian kind of way. I would love to spend time there. I'd take a bunch of mushrooms and then cocoon myself in blankets near one of several fireplaces. (The one in the kitchen takes up at least half of the room.) It might be dreadful outside, cold and snowy, but an assortment of fluffy sweaters and Graham's penis would keep me warm. My legs might hang over the edge of the bathtub, but I could deal with it. After stocking up on snacks and booze at the ridiculously adorable British market, it would take something truly horrible to dash my spirits.
Living in a remote location with only a handful of neighbors, but within 40 minutes of a major city, is my dream. Should I move to Surrey? I wonder how difficult it would be for Luke to get a UK medical license ... 🤔
(I just asked him, and he said "difficult." Fuck.)
Along with the dope houses, these women are somehow able to take two weeks of vacation with only one day of notice. Can you imagine how expensive a last-minute flight from LA to London (or vice versa) would be? Tomorrow's cheapest, first class nonstop flight from LA to London is $13,187. The cheapest nonstop economy flight from London to LA is $2,188.
Wedding columnists at the Telegraph make significantly less money than me, and I certainly could not afford to book an expensive-ass flight on a complete whim. Not to mention, my job would 100% fire me if I decided to randomly peace out for two weeks. Amanda owns her own company, so her situation makes more sense, but Iris? Maybe the newspaper shuts down for a few weeks during the holidays. That is the only plausible explanation for her spontaneity.
I hate to spend too much time on female appearances, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that our two leads are also total knockouts. Iris' luminous skin is annoying. What are her secrets? How many facials does she get per month? Amanda's impossibly shiny bob has me googling keratin treatments. Why can't I roll out of bed after a drunken romp and look like a million bucks? I don't even have the energy to put on makeup and jewelry when I'm sober and well-rested.
These ladies make me feel bad about myself, like maybe I should change out of sweatpants and put on some lipstick. It doesn't help that they're stylish, too. I can't be 100%, but it looks like Iris is wearing a Cartier Tank watch during the scene at the newspaper. It's a classic one in black and silver and hasn't been ruined by a bunch of gauche diamonds around the face. It's an understated dog whistle that screams "old money" and is the perfect complement to Iris' sheer black polka dot dress (or top, I can't tell). Amanda's outfits are more fashion-forward, but Iris' let the world know that she definitely has a secret trust fund. Nancy Meyers presents her as just a humble British newspaper writer, successful but not flashy, although her life is still a total fantasy.
With Amanda, Meyers doesn't have to hold back. She's established that this character is a badass in her industry and a total workaholic, often sacrificing her own personal happiness for the future of her company. She has money and she's not afraid to spend it - on first class plane tickets, black car chauffeurs, and a chic-ass wardrobe.
This chick lives in LA, but still brings three winter coats for her 2-week long vacation in England. She didn't have enough time to shop for them, so I guess we're supposed to believe that she's spent her life cultivating a wardrobe that's ready for anything. I didn't carefully count all of her sweaters, but we saw at least 7-1o of them. This bitch probably packed a new one for each day of her visit, along with extras so that she'd have plenty of stylish loungewear options. I bet they're all cashmere, too. Amanda doesn't fuck with peasant fabrics like cotton or wool.
On the plane, she's snuggled up in a cozy, baby blue sweater with bracelets over the sleeve. When she arrives at Rosehill Cottage, Amanda is in a completely different, fiercer look. She must have done a wardrobe change before her car arrived at the airport. I initially imagined her slipping into this new outfit in a public restroom, like a poor, and then realized that she likely stopped at one of Heathrow's premium lounges to freshen up after the long flight.
Like all of Meyers' leading ladies, Amanda and Iris have money, success, and style, but they're missing something huge ... true love. If you're a regular reader of WiR, you know that I never turn up my nose at traditional romcom conventions. I'm content to watch beautiful people fall in love if the plot and performances are compelling. I can forgive a lot of bullshit if I'm invested in the characters. Typically, Meyers is able to elevate her films from rose-tinted escapism to something more compelling by writing strong, funny dialogue and casting excellent actresses. "The Holiday" is pure fluff with none of the extra vim.
Jude Law (OG Ryan Gosling), is sexy as hell in this movie, but his devilish good looks don't make Amanda's nonsense more tolerable. How is her parents' divorce still affecting her day-to-day at 30+ years old? Take one of your money stacks and hire a good therapist, for fuck's sake. Only a paid professional should have to put up with your "omg I can't cry" rich people problems. I don't think anyone can empathize with this "issue." The only time I'm interested in Amanda is when she's fucking Graham, walking through Iris' house, or wearing something cute. I don't care about her happiness because she's not a relatable or likable character.
I typically don't care for Jude Law and his receding hairline, but I find him incredibly charming in this movie. A bespectacled book editor with a British accent? Sign me up. Sure, he says a lot of dumb shit, but I immediately forget about it as soon as I catch a glimpse of chest hair popping out of his hastily buttoned shirt. I'm not one of those women who dream of having a family, but when I found out he was a dad and saw him amuse his little cuties with Mr. Napkin Head? Panties on the floor.
When Amanda finally cries at the end of the movie, I feel nothing, but as soon as Graham removes his glasses to wipe away a few tears, my heart explodes. He's not even a well-developed character, but Meyers has given him more emotional weight than Amanda. He's a widower, seems like a good dad, and is in touch with his sensitive side. He likes Amanda as soon as he meets her and professes his love for her after ten days! He's an abstract, dreamy dude and their whirlwind relationship is the stuff of romantic fantasies but ... it's hard to feel overjoyed about this match when Amanda is so "meh."
On the flipside, Iris is someone who is relatable and likable. She clearly has some self-esteem issues because she keeps crawling back to Jasper (Rufus Sewell), her dipshit ex-boyfriend who plays her like a Stradivarius. We've all been in this situation before. I remember doing crazy things in college for some guy who wasn't nice to me unless I was sucking his dick. I knew it was pathetic when it was happening but kept stupidly hoping things would change. How hard did you cringe over their Christmas present exchange?
Jasper: Hey, I got you something for Christmas.
Iris: That's convenient, because I got you something, too.
Jasper: Darling, I don't actually have my gift with me. In fact, I probably mislaid it, but I know I got you something. I suspect it's somewhere in my car, want to know what it is?
While Jasper was clearly bluffing about her gift, Iris got him a first edition novel, perfectly wrapped up with a bow. Fuck off forever, Jasper. You're giving nice, underappreciated women everywhere PTSD flashbacks. I hope you catch a raging case of neurosyphilis.
After observing her interactions with (and turmoil over) this clown, it's nice to see Iris take a vacation and focus on herself. Just like Amanda, she meets a dude the first day she arrives at her new pad ... but he has a girlfriend and is neither attractive nor funny. I generally like Jack Black as an actor, but he feels miscast in this movie. His attempts at humor fall flat and he often comes off as a mansplain-y know-it-all. You're a composer, we FUCKING GET IT.
I think their romance would have sat better with me if the obstacle between them wasn't another woman. We've seen Jasper throw Iris through the ringer with his manipulations and Miles exhibits some of the same behaviors. When he finds out that Maggie's been cheating on him, he runs out on Iris and leaves her alone at the sushi restaurant. They have plans later to attend "An Evening with Arthur Abbott" but Miles says, "I mean, I really wanna be there ... but I don't know how long this is gonna take. I'm sorry." He does show up in time with the music and apologizes to Iris, but quite frankly, it's not good enough. I want Iris to be with someone who knows how special she is immediately and does everything in his power to make her feel that way, not Mr. Scroodle-E-Do.
Iris' story would have been better without Miles. I could have watched her vibe with Arthur and work on self-care the entire movie with immense satisfaction. I understand that this is a romantic comedy and Iris is the type of person who obviously wants to be in a relationship, but goddamn ... find someone better for her than Miles. This is the character we care about the most. Why doesn't she get to end up with a dreamboat who treats worships her?
During their first dinner together, Arthur tells her,
"Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies ... and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady. But for some reason, you're behaving like the best friend."
IT'S BECAUSE NANCY MEYERS TREATS HER LIKE THE BEST FRIEND. The leading lady shouldn't end up with some schmuck who desperately needs a haircut and goes running back to his shitty ex-girlfriend as soon as she calls.
I don't want my snark toward this movie to be misconstrued as hatred for Meyers. I'm not a big fan of critics who write her off as a glorified interior designer or auteur of shallow chick flicks. She's made some solid films that have significantly more heart than this one. Stylish people and interiors are certainly one of her signatures, but they're usually not the driving force like they are in "The Holiday." Sure, I watch this movie every year, but mainly because it's a nice thing to have on in the background while I multitask.
Maybe this is okay. Not every movie has to challenge the viewer and provoke deep thought. Sometimes we want the fluffiest of the fluff and nothing more. After the initial watch, we know where the pain points are and can skillfully avoid them. It's possible to delight in shirtless Jude Law and fireplace porn, then swiftly excuse ourselves anytime Jack Black makes an appearance. Or, if you're like me, you might enjoy a good hate watch. Nothing gets me into the holiday spirit more than insulting someone else's work for two straight hours.
If you're looking for a good seasonal movie, I can't say that I recommend this one, but if you want something fun that you can still understand after vaping all afternoon, "The Holiday" is a perfect choice. It's not Meyers' best work, but it is her most mindlessly watchable.