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The Holiday

(2006) ** Pg-13
138 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Nancy Meyers. Cast: Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach.

In Nancy Meyers' The Holiday, a Golden-Age Hollywood screenwriter played by Eli Wallach ironically decries multiplex modernity in the middle of the ultimate mall movie. This synthetic storybook rom-com in the Love Actually/Sleepless in Seattle mode allows two Desperate Singles—English Kate Winslet and American Cameron Diaz—to swap homes and hide out from their crash-and-burn romances. But men—namely Jude Law and Jack Black—find them anyway. Depending on your taste, succumb happily or run screaming.

Though Winslet cannot help but be unconvincing as a dowdy (The Telegraph's wedding writer, but of course), her lovely winsomeness remains a pleasure even in such lightweight fare. The same cannot be said for Diaz, whose solo scenes in the film's first half hour (and portions of what follows) can only be described as grotesque. Diaz plays Amanda, the hugely successful owner of an independent company that produces Hollywood trailers, an extra opportunity for Meyers to belabor the gap between old-school Hollywood "gumption" and today's bottom-feeding bottom lines.

The message would be more palatable if Meyers (Something's Gotta Give) displayed more skill and wit than she manages this time. Allowing Diaz drunkenly to screech along to The Killers' "Mr. Brightside," drive recklessly on English streets, and dash through the snow in high heels displays poor judgment only moderately corrected by the arrival of Law as a one-night stand who tries to become something more. Law hath charms to soothe Diaz's savage beast, allowing their storyline to settle into an inoffensive sweetness.

By sheer force of talent, Winslet fares slightly better in a rather lame storyline about her Iris befriending Wallach's retired screenwriter Arthur and encouraging him to limber up for a Writer's Guild event that, given the film's timeline, is impossibly conjured. Through this relaxing friendship and another with Black's equally likeable film composer (yes, yet another angle to explore the best and worst of Hollywood), Winslet's character learns to be "the leading lady" of her own life.

Meyers paints with broad strokes, shooting primarily in close-ups and clumsily dovetailing the storylines (Amanda cannot cry; Winslet's prone to sobbing). Though watching Winslet boogie fetchingly in Amanda's king-size bed is almost enough to justify the picture, The Holiday's undemanding playfulness and cutesy situation romance fail to fill out a bloated 138-minute running time. At one point Amanda remarks, "In the world of love, cheating is not acceptable." Also no longer acceptable: romantic comedies set in "the world of love."

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