Um, Actually, The Holiday is a Good Movie

Columbia Pictures

Ah, the weather getting colder, city streets lit up, festive semi-religious music playing on each and every radio station. Every year, there are slews of classic, respected holiday movies playing in second-run theaters and on network TV; films like Miracle On 34th Street, A Christmas Story, and It’s A Wonderful Life. Even newer, pop classics have worked their way into the cultural stream, movies like ElfLove, Actually, and The Family Stone. Is Carol technically a Christmas movie? We’ll figure that out in a few years. That said, an oft-forgotten staple of the genre, one that is, in fact, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is the 2006 Nancy Meyers’ romantic comedy The Holiday.

Hmmm, you might be thinking to yourself, The Holiday? Is that the movie where Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz inadvertently invent Airbnb? The Holiday, isn’t that the movie that is a normal romantic comedy but is also nearly two-and-a-half hours long? The Holiday, is that the movie where Jude Law (watch The Young Pope on HBO starting in January of 2017) reached his peak mid-2000s hotness and says, “Yes, I am Daddy”?

I thought that movie was supposed to be bad, you might be thinking to yourself.

I am here to address this once and for all: The Holiday is a good movie. If you watch it, you will have a nice time. You’ll laugh, you’ll smile, you’ll feel sympathy for its characters. You’ll say, “Huh, Eli Wallach is in this?” One more time: it’s a good movie.

The premise of The Holiday is fairly simple: Two women, Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and Iris (Kate Winslet), both unhappy in their personal lives, decide to get away on their own for the holidays and switch homes for two weeks. Amanda is an uptight, high-maintenance workaholic who edits movie trailers (an extremely “I’m a character in a movie” job) and Iris is a wishy-washy, pathetic ‘Vows’-equivalent writer for The Daily Telegraph (an even more extremely “I’m a character in a movie” job). They agree to switch homes under the condition that there are no men in either town. This movie starts out with the premise that men are just not any good. I’m on board.

But of course, this is a lie; there are unfortunately men in every town in every country until I invent a town that says otherwise. In Surrey, where Amanda is staying in Iris’s adorably quaint but highly unrealistic (it’s 2006; people own showers and I cannot imagine a world where Kate Winslet is just taking a bath every day) British cottage, there’s Graham (Jude Law)—and I would also watch a movie where Jude Law says, “I’m Graham” (Grey-hem?????) for two-and-a-half hours. Graham is hot and wears horned-rimmed glasses and is played by mid-2000s Jude Law. He’s a book editor (peak “I’m a character in a movie” job), because of course he is. Back in Los Angeles, Iris meets Miles (Jack Black) who is kind and affable and listens very closely when she talks, unlike her very bad old crush named Jasper who it is fun to BOO every time he shows up on screen. Miles, for what it’s worth, composes film scores (actually, this one is a real job). In addition to Miles, Iris also spends quite a lot of time with Arthur (Eli Wallach), an old Hollywood screenwriter who lives in Amanda’s neighborhood. The Arthur subplot takes up approximately forty plus minutes of the film, and it has nothing to do with anything, which I love! Nancy Meyers wanted this subplot, so the movie has it. End of story.

A lot of this likely sounds contrived and extremely mid-2000s—I would love to say I’m kidding when I tell you there’s a scene where a character sings The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside”—and that’s because it is, but I cannot overemphasize that this does not make The Holiday bad! It makes everything of that whole genre bad. Do characters talk both too much and to themselves consistently? Yes! Are there glaring incongruities throughout? Certainly! Does Cameron Diaz bring multiple coats with her on a vacation? Yes, I lost count!

If you can accept that The Holiday is made up of factors that we generally associate with bad movies—if that’s your baseline—from there, it becomes actually quite good. Both Amanda and Iris are full-fledged independent and likable female romantic leads. Amanda is a high-maintenance type of workaholic, but Graham doesn’t try to balance her out to make her more fun. Her commitment to work is respected and acknowledged. An early childhood trauma led her to working a lot to regain a sense of control. Sure, Amanda and Graham originally come together because they’re both hot—there are so many worse reasons to start dating—but stay together mainly because both of them find they’re seeking a family unit and compassion in the face of losing control earlier in their lives.

Iris, on the other hand, is trapped in an extremely emotional abusive relationship with Jasper (BOO). The main motivation for her trip was to get away from him after he announced his engagement to someone else, despite spending a lot of time with her. That’s bad! She recognizes that! And throughout her time in Los Angeles, she learns how to be on her own and how to seek out friends who listen to her and care about her. Is the entire Arthur subplot seemingly shaped around Iris learning that she is the romantic comedy’s “leading lady” versus the “best friend”? Hmm, sure does seem that way—but the pure release felt by both her and the audience when she finally kicks Jasper to the curb (BOO, and YAY) is excellent.

Look, I wouldn’t lie to you about a two-and-a-half hour movie (no, seriously, I wouldn’t). The Holiday is good. It really is. It’s a nice movie. We’ve all had a bad year, and couldn’t we use a nice movie? I think both romantic plots of The Holiday hold up better than more than half of the Love, Actually ones when you really think about it. Find where you can rent (Amazon) The Holiday—or pop in the DVD if you, like me, own the great movie The Holiday in a physical form—and grab a group of friends to watch it. This is essential, the group of friends part. If you watch The Holiday by yourself, you will feel joyless and stupid and bored. It’s two-and-a-half hours, for fuck’s sake. But with friends, you have a cornucopia of people who can say things like:

“Wait, so earlier the car refused to drive Cameron Diaz all the way up to the house but now it’s waiting outside?”

“Wait, so Jasper flew all the way to Los Angeles and didn’t tell his fiancée?”

“Wait, so the two child characters in the film each have their own cell phone even though it’s 2006 and that’s pretty weird?”

Not all movies are cinema; The Holiday is certainly not cinema. But it is upbeat and kind and romantic and Jude Law is just, like, extremely hot here, and when The Young Pope starts up, you’re going to want to remember him as Graham knocking on the door in the middle of the night and not as a young pope smoking a cigarette. The holidays, by and large, are often less about families and magic, and more about the path we choose for ourselves. Quite often, being happiest means being farther away from what we know.