A happy Holiday

Nancy Meyers pulls off a classic comedy tribute in starry The Holiday


THE HOLIDAY written and directed by Nancy Meyers, with Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black. A Sony Pictures release. 138 minutes. Opens Friday (December 8). For venues and times, see Movies, page 105. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN


The great Kate Winslet has shown up recently in three movies in as many months. But La Winslet’s at her winsome best in The Holiday, which she almost single-handedly transforms from conventional chick flick to near-classic romantic comedy.

She plays Iris, a sensible journalist who, Bridget Jones-style, sets her watery blue eyes on a cad of a fellow writer (Rufus Sewell). When her heart’s broken right before Christmas, she temporarily swaps her cozy Surrey cottage for the L.A. home of Amanda (Cameron Diaz), who makes movie trailers and is also recovering from a bad relationship.

Having groaned through director Nancy Meyers’s last two rom-coms, the cloying Something’s Gotta Give and the insulting What Women Want, I was surprised to find the high-concept premise paying off.

Not only does Meyers deliver the thrill of watching two easy-on-the-eyes actors bemoaning their lousy love lives (as if!), but we get two locales and romances for the price of one. In England, Amanda meets Iris’s brother Graham (Jude Law), while in California, Iris makes music literally with Jack Black’s Miles, a film composer.

What sets The Holiday apart is the interweaving of a charming subplot about old movies. Iris and Miles befriend Amanda’s neighbour Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), a retired screenwriter who introduces the two to classic films starring Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, et al.

You’ve got to have chutzpah and confidence in your cast to have your characters speak those names onscreen. Even the title seems like an homage to the 1938 Cukor/Grant/Hepburn rom-com classic Holiday. Furthermore, because of Black’s character, composer Hans Zimmer samples famous soundtracks from other films. Talk about humility.

But the cast pull it off, selling their characters’ singlehood, nailing their occasional sight gags and earning our laughs and tears, which often occur in the same scene.

If casting Law as an available single guy (I don’t want to spoil a big reveal here) is a bit of straight-female wish fulfillment, adding Black to the mix is genius. He and Winslet share a jokey, sexy rapport that’s in keeping with those classic movies. His presence also ensures that we don’t overdose on examples of conventional beauty.

At over two hours, the film’s too long. But come DVD time, this’ll be a huge hit with girls and gays on movie-and-Hagen-Dazs nights.

**

glenns@nowtoronto.com

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