Guys are supposed to hate chick flicks, but as a guy I'm here to say that's not true. I cried at 'Titanic,' I cried at 'The Color Purple' -- heck, I even cried at the end of 'Battlefield Earth' (but that was for entirely different reasons). And while I didn't cry at 'The Holiday,' I did devour it with a big, fat, Cheshire cat-eating grin on my face -- even though it is a completely formulaic, utterly predictable comedy that is about as nutritional as a Twinkie.
'The Holiday' combines the idea of the body-switch movie with the meet-cute movie, taking the confection to new heights of precociousness. Kate Winslet is Iris, a Londoner who just can't get over her ex-boyfriend Jasper (Rufus Sewell). Cameron Diaz is Amanda, a successful movie trailer producer (only in Hollywood!) who has fallen out of love with her man, Ethan (Edward Burns). These two lives will intersect when, after Jasper announces his engagement to a co-worker, and Amanda kicks Ethan out of her multi-million dollar mansion after his infidelity, the two women decide to swap houses for a two-week holiday time-share. And so Amanda's off to quaint England, and Iris is bound for thrill-a-minute L.A.
The coincidences don't end there. Serendipitously, each woman meets a new man. Iris strikes up a quick friendship with Miles (Jack Black), a goofy, cherubic soundtrack composer who is in an unfulfilling relationship with a beautiful actress. And Amanda, against her better judgment, has a one-night stand with a local book editor and playboy, Graham (Jude Law). Of course, each is about to fall in love, although they are the only people within a thousand-mile radius who can't see it coming. Can each put their past relationships behind them and open their hearts again to love?
Okay, so there is not an actual body-switch in the movie. But the house-swap gimmick serves the same narrative trick. Amanda and Iris share more than a bed and a sofa from Pottery Barn -- each will learn to see love from a completely new, opposite perspective. And god knows, they need it. Though I love Winslet, Iris is such a sad sack at the beginning of the film that she doesn't need a holiday, she needs a good six months at self-esteem boot camp. Diaz is even harder to warm to -- her Amanda is so abrasive that I didn't want to give her a hug, but instead a good, swift kick in the arse. It is, ironically, Law and Black who bring the most warmth to the movie -- each plays off perfectly against their established types (Law the womanizer, Black the comic madman) to achieve a sweet chemistry with Winslet and Diaz.
'The Holiday' was directed by Nancy Meyers, who continues her winning streak with grown-up romantic comedies. As she proved with 'Baby Boom' and in particular 'Something's Gotta Give,' she has a knack for combining conflicted characters, trite situations and comic coincidences into a satisfying whole. Though Meyers' films never break any new cinematic ground, she knows her way around pop romantic philosophizing. Winslet in particular is given lines that would impress even a Nobel Prize-winning PhD. Everyone seems so smart and self-aware, that you wonder how they got into such romantic predicaments in the first place.
But ultimately 'The Holiday' is romantic fantasy. Everything and everyone is picture perfect, and it wraps itself up nicely in a neat little bow of charming contrivance. Meyers even manages a few pointed digs at Hollywood itself via the Amanda character's fake trailers, satirizing the industry's "crass commercialism," yet it comes off almost as quaint, not spiteful. Though the film runs a bit too long -- this two weeks feels like two years -- it's hard to say no to a wistful dream this optimistic. When Winslet and Diaz finally triumph, it doesn't matter if it's corny, mauldlin, sentimental and sappy. Maybe I didn't cry. But I did cheer.
'The Holiday' comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, and it's beginning to look like this may be the start of a new trend for Sony -- the studio sent this review copy of 'The Holiday' along with 'Casino Royale' and 'The Pursuit of Happyness,' and all three are AVC encodes, a departure from their previously strict MPEG-2 allegiance.
For whatever reason, I expected 'The Holiday' to be a bright, bubbly, colorful sunsplash of a transfer. (Perhaps that's because it's a chick flick?) And while it does have its colorful moments, boasting a particular vibrancy to two specific colors (deep cyan and canary yellow), primary hues are conversely not that vibrant. In fact, the film looked kinda muted to me. However, colors certainly don't bleed, nor do they appear oversaturated, so fleshtones and detail hold up well.
Unfortunately, I felt contrast on 'The Holiday' was the weakest of this latest Sony batch. It has a bit of that 'Talladega Nights'-itis to it. There is a flatness to the mid- and high-range that doesn't afford the image much pop, while depth is fine but not exceptional. It's sometimes like watching a movie through a pair of lightly-tinted sunglasses. Blacks, though, remain pitch perfect. The transfer is also sharp throughout, and the source looks absolutely pristine. Sony's choice of AVC MPEG-4 on these latest titles certainly holds its own, with no apparent compression artifacts, and noise is never a problem.
Chick flicks are generally not known for their bombastic soundtracks, and 'The Holiday' is no exception. But this uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track (a 4.6mbps 48 kHz/16-bit encode) is still quite lovely, delivering quite a bit of cheery atmosphere.
Surround use is never aggressive, but there is a fine attention to detail that pays dividends. I liked the subtle ambiance throughout -- from a whisper in the trees when Kate Winslet first meets Jack Black, to a hint of score bleed during Cameron Diaz's first rendezvous with Jude Law, it's not overpowering, but it is effective. Tech specs are all aces, from superbly clean dialogue to full-bodied dynamic range that handles deep bass and sweet highs with equal aplomb. Volume levels are also spot-on, with dialogue always front and center.
'The Holiday' is not packed with extras, athough seeing as the standard-def DVD doesn't offer anything better, I guess (to quote another famous Sony romantic comedy) this is as good as it gets.
Billed on the back-of-the-box as an audio commentary with director Nancy Meyers and "guests," I was of course expecting some big, wonderful surprise, such as Kate Winslet or Cameron Diaz dropping by for tea. No such luck. Joining Meyers instead are composer Hans Zimmer, production designer Jon Hutman and editor Joe Hutshing. Quite frankly, this track is kinda dull. Really, does anyone care about tech stuff on a movie like this? All I cared about were the on-screen sparks between the actors, and how Meyers concocts her winning romantic formulas. Unfortunately there's not enough of that, with Meyers only mentioning the actors a few times, along with a couple of real-life incidents from which she drew inspiration. Bummer.
The only other real extra is the fluffy 18-minute "Foreign Exchange: The Making of 'The Holiday'" featurette. It's as innocuous as you'd expect, with on-set chats with the cast and filmmakers, all espousing the joys of making a light romantic comedy. Kate Winslet is the sole standout on this one, largely due to the fact that this role is a bit of a departure from her usual corset and period pieces. Plus, she's witty as hell.
'The Holiday' is a cute and entertaining romantic comedy. However, it is a bit too long, and a couple of the characters overstay their welcome (sorry, Cameron). But it makes a great date-night rental, and if a curmudgeon like me can enjoy it, it's probably safe for any guy. Sony offers an OK Blu-ray release for this one -- the transfer just doesn't pop the way I hoped, but the soundtrack has its subdued charms. The extras are no great shakes, either. Again, though, it's a perfectly nice rental for when you want to snuggle up with that special someone (or your teddy bear).