Sunday, December 24, 2006

Film Review: "the Holiday"

Many years ago, I was working on as an actor on a film with the great writer-director Billy Wilder ("Some Like it Hot", "The Apartment", "Sunset Boulevard", etc). As we were walking from the set of the filming of "The Fortune Cookie" to lunch at the cafeteria at Goldwyn studios, Billy was shaking his head. Someone has just disparaged the biblical work of Cecil B. DeMille ("Ben Hur", in particular); saying that his films were thematically simple, almost to the point of simplistic: "Anyone could do those films." Billy had let the critic's remark pass (a rare occurance with his rapier wit); but on the way to the cafeteria, he said to me emphatically: "No. Only DeMille could do those films brilliantly. Because he believed in those stories. If someone like me did them, I'd screw them up. I'd inject, cynicism, reality, comedy. You can only do your best work about what you believe in."

"the Holiday", a tale of two love stories, seems to be made by experienced filmmakers (writer/director Nancy Myers, and stars Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black) who, try as they might, don't believe in the theme of the story: they can't just easily relax into the simple concept of true romance, in the deepest boy-meet-girl sweetness, in the overwhelming innocence of love. Instead they are trying like hell to achieve a Capra-esque love story for the Christmas (sorry, Happy) holidays, and work too hard to manifest the simple love theme. And it shows.

The story: two women, one a fast paced LA film-trailer company owner (Diaz), the other, a book-publishing employee (Winslet), have both been pained/betrayed by rotten men in their lives. (This is not a unique theme in modern 'chick-flicks' seems to strike a chord in contemporary, middle class, successful, unban women!!) They seek an escape from these men; in fact, both want to be careful with all men for a while; and, via the Internet, they house-trade for 'the Holidays': Diaz goes to Winslet's snowy isolated house in Surrey; Winslet to Diaz's upscale Brentwood/Pacific Palisades/Malibu house in LA. (where 'mystical'--I kid you not!--Santa-Ana winds are raging! Winslet, beware!) They meet the new men in their lives: Diaz meets Jude Law, the bother of Winslet, a book editor widower raising two girls, and Winslet in LA meets Jack Black who is a musical writer-scorer for films, a colleague of Diaz. Cute-meets abound (cutest of all is Winslet's meeting with Eli Wallach as a nearby neighbor, an very old but Jewish witty/wise screenwriter who finds new/old glory through accepting an invitation to a Writer's Guild gala in his honor; due to Winslett's encouragement, of course...high caloric stuff).

The resultant film pushes all the buttons...but the buzzers don't work. The electricity is off. No one is at home.

Certainly not the actors. Diaz, Law, Black, Winslet are fine the right material/roles they are sometimes stellar (all right, to be honest: I really don't understand the seemingly overwhelming appeal of Winslet in anything! But that is another story.) Law tries his Cary Grant imitaion (and he makes me pine for Tony Curtis's Grant-immitation in "Some Like it Hot"). Moreover, his attempted sweet sex-appeal doesn't work either--Tom Hanks he is not. Diaz is hysterical or over-reactive as an actress throughout, 'playing-the-problem-and-not-the -solution' in her performance (actors will particularly understand that condemnation) and her annoying sqeaky voice is just one sign of her failure. Black (a sometimes brilliant comedian) looks like he wishes that he were in another film (I do, too! In fact, his eyes are always somewhere else; probably at his agent's office strangling the man or woman agent for trying to turn him into a high priced leading man!), and Winslet...she continues to ge a 'forehead' actress. (The constant furrowing of her brow indicates how difficult her character's life is...get it?)

Needless to say (and I'll say it anyway): I didn't like the film. At 2 hours and 10 minutes it is endless...and endlessly silly. I have a question however, and if anyone who reads this review and sees the film in spite of it: I wish they would e-mail me an answer: why in the great coming together love/sex scene (later than their initial 'hook-up' scene) between Law and Diaz, as they lie in the bed, in a medium shot, side by side, he and she seemingly otherwise naked, sheet modestly covering their mid-sections, spent with pleasurable exhaustion, on their back, Diaz is still wearing her bra? Isn't that generally the first piece of clothing to go?! Or am I hopelessly old-fashioned!


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