Friday, January 12, 2007

A 'holiday' enjoyed even by a male

I like romantic comedies. I am actually quite fond of them. Perhaps I’ve forgotten my place in society. I should be going to the latest action movie not loving it up at “The Holiday.” I am reminded of my gender confusion quite regularly. Most recently it was by the Chicago Sun Times' Richard Roeper in his review of “The Holiday.”

“Not to engage in gender stereotyping -- check that, to engage in gender stereotyping -- I can't imagine any man choosing to see this movie on his own, though millions of men will see it on date night. They won't hate it, but they won't miss it when it's over.”

At this point I meekly raise my hand and cough, “I saw it on my own.” Well, all right, I did see it with my mother and sister, but it was my pick and I enjoyed it the most. I even have the poster hanging on my wall.

Yet, most reviews insist that “The Holiday” is only for women. The romantic comedy is meant to be a kryptonite to the average male and an affront to their masculinity. It is true the target audience of “The Holiday” is female, but it isn’t without joys that transcend gender.

Thanks to a gimmicky premise, you get a two for one deal with “The Holiday.” Two heartbroken women meet online and decide two swap homes for two weeks. Our two heroines are Amanda (Cameron Diaz), a Hollywood editor of movie trailers and Iris (Kate Winslet), a London journalist.

In the trade, Iris gets a massive mansion, a sweet golden era of Hollywood screenwriter as a neighbor (Eli Wallach) and Jack Black’s Miles, a film composer as a love interest. Amanda receives a small English cottage and Iris’ brother Graham (Jude Law) as her holiday fling.

Although both plots have their charms, Winslet’s is the one that feels the most complete with characters that have life and color. A whole film should’ve been dedicated to these characters.

Winslet’s Iris has a full character arc. She’s left heartbroken and insecure at the beginning of film and through her interactions with Wallach and Black regains her confidence and sense of self. It is transformation developed slowly and it is a testament to Winslet’s talent that she creates such a complete character in a film that is being dismissed as mere fluff.

Wallach, a veteran actor who appeared as the villain in westerns like “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” is a delight as a sort of elder statesmen of Hollywood.

At 90, Wallach gives a performance with more warmth and genuine sweetness than someone a third of his age. His scenes with Winslet where he coaches her a film history and she prepares him for a special presentation of his work are some of the best of the movie.

At first glance Black may seem like an unlikely romantic lead, but he does a nice job dialing down the maniac energy he provided such films as “High Fidelity” and “School of Rock.” Since Miles composes film scores, it allows Black to have tangents of musical whimsy that should satisfy his fan, but even so it is a performance of surprising restraint and charm.

Black’s performance paired with his underrated work in “King Kong” proves that while he may go over-the-top in his own films, when called upon to actually act he can rise to the occasion.

Winslet and Black develop a relationship that is based in friendship first and grows into something more. There’s a real sense of Winslet emotionally connecting with both Black and Wallach.

The same doesn’t hold true for Diaz, who is left with a plot that is less dynamic. Her relationship with Law is based in sex and then grows into something more, but the shallowness of their first encounter permeates through the rest of the film. Despite Law professing his love towards the end of the film, there’s little sense of these two characters truly connecting on a deep level.

Diaz’s Amanda has less of a character growth than Iris. We are told that ever even since her parents divorced she has been unable to cry. We know Amanda has changed and grown when she does cry and runs back into the arms of Law. It feels superficial, where the Iris plot felt authentic. It doesn’t help matters that Diaz has an irritating Joker-esque smile across her face for the majority of her scenes.

Law, with his appeal turned on high, is ultimately what holds together the Amanda plotline. Meyers gives him a character that goes against the typical archetypes, and Law plays it with just the right balance of light charisma, intellect and wit.

Most reviews claim the film is without surprises, but there is one twist involving Law that subverts expectations in an unpredictably pleasant way. To give it away would be unfair, but it yields some sweet, heartstring-tugging scenes.

The Amanda plot does have moments of humor and poignancy and utilizes an amusing device that has Diaz’ inner thoughts come across as the voiceover for a trailer, but the story feels only sketched out. Perhaps it wasn’t inevitable that one plot would suffer because as is the film is already well over two hours.

“The Holiday” is written, produced and directed by Nancy Meyers who has written and/or directed such films as “Private Benjamin,” the remake of “Father of the Bride,” the remake of “The Parent Trap,” “What Women Want” and “Something’s Gotta Give.”

Meyers is well versed in the formulas and clichés of the romantic comedy and tweaks them. This isn’t to say she doesn’t eventually embrace the formula; in fact the film wraps up exactly how you’d expect it to.

Critics of the genre complain that it is predictable, but that is sort of the point. Audiences have certain expectations when they see a romantic comedy. Viewers go because they know the outcome. Although the road is familiar it is the scenery that is meant to change.


Anonymous said...

Quite right you are - a romantic comedy is not always meant to be a twist a minute, as long as it isn't as dull as eating a tub of cheap vanilla ice cream. But my boyfriend took one look at the trailer and said "chick flick". Damn.

Anonymous said...

Did you notice that Iris is a journalist at the Telegraph? I wonder if that is their real newsroom...
And it is quite unlikely that she would walk next to the Houses of Parliament if her journey consists in taking the tube between Canary Wharf and Kings Cross Station.

Nat Roe said...

Noooo, this film is very very bad, irritating lead charaters that deserve to be single since they clearly need a good slap each!

The only good parts were the glorious Mr Napkinhead and the Eli Wallach sequence. I will be having strong words with you, Mr Kerr for praising such trite nonsense!
Hope new job is going great for you by the way!