December 7, 2006

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The Holiday (PG-13)
Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet give us two romantic comedies for the price of one in the girl fantasy The Holiday, a movie from Nancy Meyers, she of Something' Gotta Give and the recent updates of Father of the Bride but also of the recent update of The Parent Trap and Irreconcilable Differences.

So she can go either way.

Perhaps because of that, she offers up two stories of lovelorn women here.

Amanda (Diaz) is a rich, successful, intimidatingly confident trailer producer (the "In a world" trailers, not the doublewides) who is also emotionally stunted, can't cry and is dating a wet blanket (played appropriately by Ed Burns) who has cheated on her. She dumps him days before Christmas and decides it' time for a vacation from Los Angeles.

Iris (Winslet) writes about weddings for her London newspaper and is unrequitedly in love with obvious cad Jasper (Rufus Sewell), who leans on her when he needs the emotional crutch but hasn't any real feelings for her. They dated once and then broke up — he was already dating someone else but Iris never got over it. When she hears he' engaged, she also decides it' time to skedaddle.

The girls go online and through the magic of the movie Internet, they arrange to swap houses the very next day with Amanda heading to Iris' country cottage outside London and Iris heading for Amanda' fabulous L.A. mansion.

Both girls are surprised by the other' house, Iris more pleasantly than Amanda. Iris' house, however, comes with a visit from her brother, Graham (Jude Law), who quickly falls in love with a bored and lonely Amanda. They begin a romance that, should it result in progeny, would create children so attractive their sonogram pictures would be on the cover of Vogue.

Meanwhile, Iris is loving the luxury in Los Angeles. She even manages to make a few friends — Miles (Jack Black), the movie score-writing musician, and Arthur (Eli Wallach), an elderly neighbor who turns out to be a screenwriter from Hollywood' golden age. Can Iris learn to be strong enough to choose her own happiness over the fantasy of a romance with Jasper?

Is the pint of Hagen Dazs a single serving?

Yes, in order to fill out its two love stories The Holiday gives us every chick cliche in the Bridget Jones-resembling book. Careless men, nice men, emotional dependency, standing on your own feet, material accomplishment, the really important things in life, yadda yadda. To her credit, Meyers actually makes some of it work with Winslet giving us a nearly believable portrait of an extremely together woman who happens to have fallen hard for a man she knows she shouldn't have. Some of Winslet' scenes with Black even approach something like natural conversation.

The problem with The Holiday comes when this thoroughly decent Winslet movie is unable to escape the conjoined twin of the thoroughly awful Diaz movie. Watching Miss Cameron squish her face and alternate aggressive sluttiness with screechiness in what I can only imagine she believes is an approximation of acting, I tried to decide — is it that she can't act in a movie that doesn't involve ejaculate in her hair or is it that she' mentally deficient? I assumed the former — her nervousness makes you think she' forgotten that she' ever been in a movie before — but then I saw her on Leno and now I'm not so sure. Whichever problem is dominant, Diaz is a poor fit for the movie or the dialogue or perhaps her pants — are they too tight? She seems uncomfortable and jumpy throughout, to the point where I wish I had a remote to fast forward through her wince-inducing scenes.

Fast forward, yes, but then stop when Winslet enters the picture. Even through her story springs from the same mind and has the same requirement for humiliation, I more or less enjoyed Winslet' half of the movie. Just as luminously beautiful as Diaz, Winslet is a more engaging actress. She brings humanity and personality to her roles, even one as junk-foody as Iris.

I wonder, will they let us pay for only half of the movie? C+

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and strong language. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, The Holiday is two hours and 18 minutes long and will be distributed by Sony Pictures in wide release. It opens on Dec. 8.

— Amy Diaz