You might need a break from this 'Holiday'
You might need a break from this ‘Holiday’

Ahh, the chick flick. What a dependable genre you are. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love and you’ll often be watching a pretty mediocre movie. Therefore, dependably, just in time for Christmas comes “The Holiday,” a pretty average romantic comedy that gets elevated to “not bad” status, thanks to a fine cast and a solid director.

“The Holiday” hinges on a pretty elaborate setup, which seems to be the path chick flicks are taking these days in an attempt to tell a wildly familiar story in a new way. We start off in London with mousy, put-upon Iris (Kate Winslet), who faces emotional devastation when the source of her unrequited love, Jasper (Rufus Sewell), gets engaged to another woman.

We then zip across the globe to Los Angeles where Type-A go-getter Amanda (Cameron Diaz) has just tearlessly tossed her boyfriend Ethan (Ed Burns) out of the house for cheating on her. She decides that she is in need of a vacation, so she goes online and finds a lovely little cottage in the English countryside that’s for rent for a holiday. Lo and behold, this happens to be Iris’ home, and figuring a change would do her good, as well, she suggests that the pair swap homes for two weeks.

This part of the story requires a pretty large suspension of disbelief —  mostly along the lines of the logistics involved in pulling off a successful, bi-continental house switch. But no time for details when there is love to be found.

Upon arriving in England, Amanda is instantly bored and plans to leave almost immediately; that is until Iris’ super-hunky brother Graham (Jude Law) stumbles to the door looking to crash at his sister’s after a night at the pub. Not surprisingly, Amanda decides to stick around for a few more days.

Meanwhile, back in LA, Iris is having no problems settling into Amanda’s luxurious home in the Hollywood hills. But love finds its way to Iris via Amanda’s lovelorn friend, Miles, played by unconventional leading man Jack Black (which I’m sure Kate Winslet loved. “Diaz gets to make out with Jude Law and I get Jack Black!? Get my agent on the phone.”) Iris also befriends retired and forgotten Hollywood screenwriter Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach) for the “cute old man” portion of the story.

As you would expect, these new loves find complications, not the least of which is that everyone will have to go back to their lives in different parts of the globe in a matter of days. (A problem, I might add, that is never satisfactorily resolved.)

The movie was directed by Nancy Meyers, a veteran of other glossy, star-driven romantic comedies like “Something’s Gotta Give” and “What Women Want;” so “The Holiday” is certainly within her wheelhouse. However, since this is essentially two movies, it runs a little long at well over two hours, but that’s a minor quibble as Meyers does a good job of bouncing back and forth between the stories and keeping the country mouse, city-mouse silliness in check.

The cast does a fine job with no one phoning in performances. Winslet is excellent as usual as she manages to keep Iris interesting and from being too pathetic even though she does sob through most of the film. Black proves he can hang in the leading man role and it’s exciting to see Wallach doing anything these days.

Law is also as good as you would expect him to be; the lone disappointment is Diaz. Bless her heart, she’s mind-numbingly attractive, but she’s just not that great of an actress. She’s trying her best here but is way out of her league with the rest of this cast. She should stick to movies like “Charlie’s Angels” that feature her wearing very little and falling down.

But as good as the rest of the cast is, it doesn’t save the movie from the fact that this is some pretty well-worn territory. In the end, “The Holiday” is an unremarkable movie that delivers the as-advertised romance and the occasional laugh — perfect for those of you who never minded getting socks for Christmas.

“The Holiday” is rated PG-13 for sexual content and some strong language.

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