In "The Holiday," Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz try to cure their man troubles by swapping homes for two weeks in December. Diaz moves into Winslet's rustic English cottage (it look s like a gingerbread house). Winslet gets Diaz's ultramodern Los Angeles manse. On Diaz's first night, this pretty much happens:
Jude better sleep me with now. You've only got two weeks!
That's cheesy, I know, but welcome to the universe of Nancy Meyers, where low-grade cheesiness is contagious. Meyers may not be a household name but the movies she's written and directed are. "Private Benjamin," "Baby Boom," "Father of the Bride," "What Women Want," "Something's Gotta Give" -- they're the commercial equivalent of a pseudo-feminist spa day. Her heroines walk in bedraggled and emerge fabulous, having undergone nothing more taxing than two hours of intensely mediocre filmmaking.
"The Holiday" is Meyers's most bearable romantic comedy, primarily because she's taken a holiday herself from the inept sociology of her last two movies, "What Women Want" and "Something's Gotta Give." The new movie simply insists that your heart will warm -- even if Meyers has to put it in the microwave. Hence a sweet scene in which Winslet, accepting a corsage, says, "I like corny. I'm looking for more corny in my life."
Along those lines: Of course if Cameron Diaz opens a door, the stranger standing on the other side is Jude Law, looking typically scrumptious. He plays Winslet's brother, who's drunk the night he and Diaz meet and is willing to let her take him to bed -- his sister's. As the days pass, it turns out he's not perfect. He's better.
While Diaz and Law heat up, Winslet mends her busted heart by caring for Eli Wallach, as the 90-year-old legendary screenwriter down the road, and spending time with Jack Black, playing a friend of Diaz's ex. The devilment gone from his grin and sporting a great haircut, Black composes movie scores, and there's a nice scene in which he acts out famous themes for Winslet in a video store.
Meyers can't sustain a convincing idea in her movies, whether it's a look at advertising to female consumers ("What Women Want") or the vicissitudes of a middle-aged woman's sex life ("Something's Gotta Give"). But to her credit, the people in them are often a pleasure to watch, even Diaz, whose untamed party-girl flailing conceals latent womanliness, at least when she's lying on her back contemplating the manmade stars on the roof of a tent.
"The Holiday" is a lark, with pretensions to be more. Diaz owns a company that makes movie trailers, a job that Meyers uses as an attempt to mock Hollywood witlessness. (Diaz's inner thoughts are narrated by the booming voice of American movie previews.) At one point, Wallach tells Winslet she's a leading lady who ought to stop acting like the best friend. He then prescribes for her a diet of Irene Dunne, Rosalind Russell, and Barbara Stanwyck , which she follows.
Those women had "gumption," he says. What's Meyers' excuse?
Charismatic as her heroines are, they lack nerve. Meyers seems to think gumption is in a jar at the Smithsonian. Rather than create her own dames, she nostalgically pays tribute to a bygone era as if coming up with tougher, more interesting women were someone else's job. Those stars didn't own gumption; neither did Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch, Ben Hecht, Howard Hawks , or the other writers and directors who put them front and center.
We don't need more eulogies for cracklingly smart romantic comedies. We need more talented people to bring better corny back into our lives.