Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: The Holiday

the holiday indexI wonder if it’s because networks choose to air it close to the Christmas period that I end up relenting that it would be my choice over ‘Love Actually’

There are certain parts of the world (like America) that use the term ‘holiday’ when referring to public holidays (like Christmas or New Year’s Day), however, there are others (like us in Australia and also South Africa) who use the word when taking time off. So instead of using ‘vacation’ like those who live in the US, Trevor Noah also uses the word when describing ‘travelling that is non-business related’. This is why I was surprised that a film from Nancy Meyers opted to use the latter, since a lot of her films are set in places within the United States. Until I’ve found an interview that confirms the story behind the title, I’ve convinced myself that it is due to the protagonist living in the English countryside.

The Setup: Iris (Kate Winslet) is trapped in a cycle of ‘staying in love with the wrong man (Rufus Sewell)’ and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) is reeling from a cheating boyfriend who also thinks she is less than capable in being in a relationship. Amanda and Iris cross paths because Amanda decides that she has to take some time off for herself after breaking it off with Ethan (Edward Burns). During her search she ends up finding Iris’ cottage in Surrey. Iris explains that the arrangement is swapping everything, and since the Surrey resident is keen to get out of there as quick as possible, she offers Amanda to start the swap right the next day. I thought it was interesting that the site (HomeExchange.com) not only existed during the release (2006) it still is going strong today.

The Inciting Incident: Jasper announces his engagement. I seem to sometimes get confused when this is and initially went with Iris flying to LA and Amanda to Surrey to commence the ‘swap’. That wouldn’t make sense as it wasn’t happening to our protagonist (Iris). Even if she had already flown to LA, Iris could still call it off (because it so happens that Amanda was also in a similar position). So the incident that transpires should be the one she doesn’t have control over is one of the bigger signals that it’s completely over between her and Jasper. He wasn’t just ‘rebounding’ off this new woman. So if you decide to read my piece looking at the structure of the film and spending time mapping where the three acts sit, you’ll notice that I came to a different conclusion and hope that we share the perspective that having someone to swap houses with isn’t really a compelling inciting incident compared to the indication that she’s not going to ever be in a relationship with the person she’s in love with. Maybe it’s sometimes confusing and that there may be two protagonists (rather than Amanda being a ‘reflection character‘). It does seem at first like there are two protagonists, yet after taking a closer look at events and dialogue the sole credit goes to Iris. Even with films that do seem like there are multiple protagonists (like ‘Little Miss Sunshine’), one specific character stands out (Olive).

In what ways are Iris and Amanda reflections of each other? Iris has her connection to her co-worker that seems unable to be severed. Amanda has her inability to shed tears. Both characters are great at their jobs that other people turn to them to advice. There’s also their inability to take time for themselves. I also noticed that none of them have friends they regularly call to update about their lives, which means that their partners end up as being stand-ins for their best friend.

One thing I found interesting is that Miles is less appealing as Graham not just because I’m comparing Jack Black (who might be appearing in his only romantic comedy and thus doesn’t usually get attention for viewers to decide if he’s ‘husband material’) to Jude Law (who caused a bit of a reaction as a young Albus Dumbledore), but it’s more because Graham has demonstrated that he has more ability to sustain a healthy relationship (not counting the ‘occasional pub drunkenness’ and ending up in bed with strangers). There’s also the issue of Miles’ weirdness (including having a moment with a total stranger in front of the person he is currently dating), which doesn’t come across as endearing but it probably would be considered as a red flag unless there’s proof that he’s ‘not that guy’ (Jasper comes to mind).

What I like best about the story is the message that we shouldn’t blame our partners for what they lack. If we find ourselves focusing on their ‘cons’ rather than their ‘pros’, then it’s likely that they aren’t the right match for us. Even just giving them a number of hoops to jump through to find out of there is compatibility as conversation partners is sometimes enough to know that there isn’t likely a future even if you decide to go on a number of dates. Just like the premise of the film: ‘Enough Said’ — that one person’s ‘date from hell’ is another person’s ‘dream-date’. I’m referring to pairing an extremely self-conscious person with someone who doesn’t hesitate to dig into who that person is and asking about attachment styles and deeper meaning about throwaway comments. Of course in no time the connection will implode and the self-conscious person will feel judged and the deep-digger (the curious person) wouldn’t feel appreciated. The right conversation partners for us are out there somewhere so best for us to keep moving in that direction to find them and possibly examine what it is that makes us unique rather than focusing on what we lack.

The last thing we’d like to do is to make the other person feel guilty for being them (because it’s likely if the conversation, or dates, keep going…both sides will just end up frustrating each other due to the difference in outlook and conversation style). To (loosely) quote someone wise: “We can’t move to the next story in our lives if we’re trying to hang on to something that has ran its course.” I quite like the illustration of emptying our hands first so we are able to cling to that next hand-hold while climbing the wall of life.

Comedic Moments:

  • Amanda’s multiple attempts to ‘cry it out’
  • Trailer voiceovers for Amanda’s life
  • Amanda scarily navigating the narrow streets (thank goodness she’s in a Mini! Imagine if it was a Land Rover!?)
  • The Iris and Arthur ‘workout montage’
  • Iris thinking that she has switched calls but realises she just ended the other call rather than put it on hold.

It’s odd that the comparison to ‘Maggie’s Plan’ keeps growing as I attempt to look at the film from as many angles that I could. They are similar in a sense that my enjoyment increased once I listened to the audio commentary. But my biggest epiphany about the film is that it is the kind of story that I would watch to the end, but would likely have disagreements about. For example, my view is that it is necessary (for perspective purposes) to spend some time not being in a relationship after just having ended one (or gotten over someone). Those who struggle with alcohol use this as a rule when they decide to choose sobriety, and Chris Boutte who struggled with the drug also realised that he also uses relationships (being in one) as a coping mechanism.

The other thing that made me uneasy during my rewatch was Amanda punching Ethan. Yes, it could be seen as funny, but I was thinking about the message it communicates to young kids. I know schools general enact disciplinary action when such a thing happens, and wonder if the message is: once you’re in your 30’s it’s okay to hit a man. A bit like the shirtless men that gets paraded every now and then during episodes of ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’. There’s also the added plot device of using alcohol as a way of bringing two people together. I mentioned during a previous review about the dangers of alcohol consumption and am looking forward to a romantic comedy that avoids this trapping. We know that there is definitely a dark side to alcohol and there are times that those judgements rendered when intoxicated make us wish we not only stayed sober that day, but every day.

The complaints made about the film (particularly those who are really unkind) seem to be made by those who aren’t the target audience. I might not be 100% what Nancy Meyers is aiming for, that I would totally swoon and melt over the Amanda and Graham pairing (‘GraManda’?), but I couldn’t see myself commenting extremely unkind descriptors about Cameron Diaz and her capability as an actor. Yes, I would likely be just glossing over Amanda’s facial expressions and instead be focusing on Graham. Even then, I would put it in a different way: Cameron Diaz has her own range and when utilised in the right stories, she shines. I do think that Nancy wrote a part that does allow Cameron to play to her strengths.

I know it’s odd to say this about a ‘breezy romcom’, but it is difficult to truly give the merits (or not) of the film without giving away each and every detail including the conclusion. Since I’d like to respect you as this might be your watching this (and would totally not skewer you if you hadn’t done so until now), I’m going to lean towards the 10-minute rule: if you’re not interested, its unlikely that you’ll be for the rest of the runtime. Though if you don’t have 10 or 20 minutes to spare before you have to get back to what you were doing, or chose another film….then I highly recommend to jump right to Iris’ first scene (and you can even keep watching right up to when she finds out about Jasper’s engagement). I think 2-3 minutes of that is enough for you to have a ‘blink moment‘.

But! If you have loved it before, or caught it at a friend’s house playing in the background during a dinner party, it definitely could be one of those films that you can watch with your husband when you celebrate your fifth wedding anniversary (though I probably would choose ‘About Time’ instead). Because is in those moments when we have no fear to be truly ourselves that we don’t mind the people we care about seeing the cheesiest versions of ourselves. If you barely remember anything about the film, I’m going to remind you: it gets REALLY cheesy (but apparently enough to calm down an anxious bride-to-be). So cheesy that in some scenes I had to tune out and think of something else.

Leigh Lim.
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