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Holiday, The Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 August 2007

Image Nancy Meyers has directed only four movies so far, the remake of “The Parent Trap” (1998), “What Women Want” (2000), “Something’s Gotta Give” (2003) and this one. So far, she’s doing pretty well, with “The Holiday” being her best so far. Yes, it’s a romantic comedy; yes, you can predict exactly where it’s going five minutes into the movie. But who’d want it to end differently that it does? True, the end is a bit further from the beginning (at 138 minutes) than perhaps it should have been, but watching a quartet of actors as appealing as these four makes a bit of overlength forgiveable.

The setup is dealt with quickly, before you have the opportunity to question its ease. In London, Iris (Kate Winslet) has just learned that her philandering boyfriend Jasper (Rufus Sewell) is dropping her—and she learns it the hard way, when at the Christmas party for the publication they both work for, his engagement to another woman is announced. Iris is crushed, even briefly considering suicide (an odd element for a comedy), even though she lives in an adorable cottage in Surrey.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Amanda (Cameron Diaz), a well-paid creator of movie trailers, has discovered that HER boyfriend, movie composer Ethan (Edward Burns) has cheated on her with his receptionist. As he is thrown out of her attractive Bel-Air home, he fires off a few criticisms which are all too accurate, such as her unwillingness to fully commit to her relationships. Also, she has a bad temper—we first see her as she’s throwing a sneaker at the departing Ethan. A friend suggests she take some time off over the Christmas holiday (hence the title). She Googles around a bit, and comes across a listing for Iris’ cottage, which isn’t available for rent, but is for a home swap. And bang, the deal is done.

They each hop aboard an airliner right away, and Meyers continues to cut between their contrasting adventures (and personalities). Amanda gazes at perfect Christmas-card scenery as a driver takes her to the cottage—well, NEAR the cottage, anyway. She has to haul her luggage up a snowy road, but the cottage is pretty near perfect—if cramped—when she gets there. It even comes equipped with a friendly little dog. In L.A., Iris is dazzled by the very un-English weather and scenery of Southern California: blue skies, waving palms, the whole bit. Amanda’s house dazzles her: it’s huge, it has a swimming pool, a king-sized bed and an immense TV set with a wall full of DVDs. The bedroom even has electrically-lowered shades. Wow. Everything’s fine until she has to open the electric gate to admit friendly Miles (Jack Black), there for Ethan’s laptop. He, too, is a film composer.

Back in England, Amanda is awakened in the dead of night by a pounding at the door. It turns out to be Iris’ dashingly-handsome brother Graham (Jude Law), drunk as a couple of skunks. We saw him briefly in an opening montage; his love life isn’t all that good, either—but it just got better, as Amanda almost immediately suggests they have sex. Which they do.

Amanda’s story remains focused on the relationship between her and Graham—and his two children. He’s a single dad, and getting a little tired of handling a job that tough all on his own. Ethan complained that Amanda can’t cry—which is true, and which bothers her; she can’t even whomp up a tear or two over Graham.

But back in Bel Air, there’s more going on than Iris’ slowly-growing relationship with Miles—who has been wrongly thinking he’s in a stable relationship already. He amuses Iris as in a video store, he offers her one movie after another, briefly doing the themes for each. (When he gets to “The Graduate,” there’s a quick cutaway to a bemused Dustin Hoffman, also in the store.) What else is going on is that Iris has met Amanda’s next-door neighbor, Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach, just great), once a major screenwriter. But the death of his wife some years before has turned him into a recluse who turns down offers by the Writers Guild to set up an Evening With Arthur Abbott. He and Iris turn out to be good friends to one another, as she helps him come out of his shell, and he helps her gain the “gumption” she needs.

“The Holiday” is sleekly made, with great cinematography by Dean Cundey (who’s always great), and a very inventive song score that includes romantic songs and several Christmas tunes; they’re sometimes used to link the stories of Amanda and Iris. Sometimes Amanda envisions her life as a movie trailer. This is a good idea, but it’s not used often enough to have much of an impact; it should have been done more often, or deleted.

There are complications, of course. Even though he’s getting married to someone else, Rufus doesn’t stop calling Iris—and even shows up on her doorstep in Bel Air. Amanda doesn’t need an old flame cooing to her from the sidelines; she’s her own complication—she has to learn to relax and enjoy herself, to go where the love is. Do you think for a moment she doesn’t eventually learn her lessons, and how to cry?

This is an appealing cast, of course. Cameron Diaz has the unusual ability to be sweet, gorgeous, maladroit and funny, all at the same time. She’s alone on screen several times in “The Holiday,” and is charming every time. Jude Law holds his own against her, managing to look sexy and handsome even in glasses (which he wears only briefly). Kate Winslet is a very good actress, but unlike with some other actors, her skills don’t outstrip her character, don’t throw her off balance in a movie that’s about love and romance and stuff like that.

This is a Blu-Ray disc, but even though it looks fine, with all the extreme closeups of creamy flesh and big blue eyes, a story like this would work just as well in grainy 16mm and black and white. It’s dreamily gorgeous, of course, but the movie isn’t how it looks, it’s about what happens to the characters. You’d probably be just as well off buying the somewhat cheaper standard definition DVD.

The extras are minor. The “making-of” featurette is standard, and of very little interest. Nancy Meyer’s commentary track, with occasional contributions by composer Hans Zimmer, production designer Jon Hutman and editor Joe Hutshing, is moderately interesting. You learn which of the two women’s homes the crew liked best, and Zimmer’s unusual plight. He had to write themes for each character, including Winslet and Wallach—and then later, when Black’s character writes HIS themes for the same two, Zimmer had to write two more, and to link them. Meyers and Hutshing talk about the week it took them to cut the scene of the first meeting of Diaz and Law, and how they had to struggle to get it down from nine minutes—to eight. Meyer is intelligent, and has clearly thought out each step of the filmmaking process; on that basis, the commentary track works.

So does “The Holiday.” It’s a charming, funny and romantic movie, one of the few set during Christmas in which things go right rather than wrong. It has an attractive cast, good music, handsome sets and likeable characters—about all you could really ask from a lightweight romantic comedy.

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