It may be 13 years old, but The Holiday still fills us with utter joy every Christmas. Here writer Susan Devaney explains why it’s the ultimate comfort film for the festive season.
Being a twin, I find ease and comfort in duality. I like pairings, and things that come in twos. The Holiday is very much a tale of two: two women, two settings and two complicated love stories – involving both themselves and others.
But don’t be fooled: this is not a film about perfect pairings. This is a film about misery, mayhem, a touch of madness – but most of all, it’s a film about love, and lots of it.
Take the character of Arthur Abbott (played by Eli Wallach), who’s introduced to us after he forgets his way home. He’s the classic damsel in distress (and a dreadful female stereotype thankfully turned around). Then in swoops Iris (played by Kate Winslet) to save the day.
Cue: one Hollywood Meet-Cute, and the blossoming of a glorious, platonic friendship.
Arthur delivers lines such as: “Iris, in the movies we have the leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are the leading lady. But, for some reason, you’re behaving like the best friend.” And still to this day, women everywhere – myself included - turn to each other and say: “Finally, my own relationship with myself makes sense.”
In turn, Iris says things like: “I like corny. I’m looking for corny in my life.” As do well all – especially at Christmas.
Best of all, Iris sums up how it feels to be treated disrespectfully by someone you love, and the utter horror of having to face up to unrequited love, when she delivers the following lines:
“It doesn’t matter how many new haircuts you get, or gyms you join, or how many glasses of chardonnay you drink with your girlfriends… you still go to bed every night going over every detail and wonder what you did wrong, or how you could have misunderstood. And how in the hell, for that brief moment, you could think that you were that happy. And sometimes you can even convince yourself that he’ll see the light and show up at your door.
“And after all that, however long all that may be, you’ll go somewhere new. And you’ll meet people who make you feel worthwhile again. And little pieces of your soul will finally come back. And all that fuzzy stuff, those years of your life that you wasted, that will eventually begin to fade.”
Thankfully, as is the way in all truly loving friendships, Iris and Arthur teach each other how to be content. Since Arthur hasn’t “been busy since 1978”, Iris shows him that he still has a valued place in the world after retirement. And, in return, he shows her how to have true “gumption”, which leads her to find a partner much better suited to her: Miles (played by Jack Black), and his madness for all-things-musical.
As well as the dual friendship and romance storylines, the plot centres around the two settings from the home exchange that takes place between Iris and Amanda Woods (played by Cameron Diaz). One is a cosy cottage belonging to Iris that looks like it’s been plucked from a beloved children’s tale, such as Peter Rabbit or Winnie the Pooh. The other is a sun-drenched, larger-than-life mansion in the Hollywood Hills courtesy of Amanda. Frankly, I’d lap up either.
And what about Amanda herself? She’s not shed a tear since she was 15 (not too dissimilar to myself). She’s a workaholic – with a relaxation problem (again, not too dissimilar to myself). And she tells Graham (played by Jude Law), who is also Iris’ brother, that an ex-boyfriend once told her she was “bad in bed”. Not once, but several times. And, boy, am I thankful for that line. It is a textbook example of the type of things men will sometimes say to women as off-the-cuff remarks, not dissimilar to vagina shaming.
But Graham is the kind of man who wins over her heart because he says things like: “I sew and I have a cow in the backyard.” And to put it bluntly, if you don’t chortle every time he does his ‘Mr. Napkin Head’ skit, then you’re dead on the inside.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware the entire film is sprinkled with a healthy dose of naivety and wilful wishing, accompanied by a zippy Hans Zimmer soundtrack. But, in short, it’s December and the rain is battering my window and no matter how much I crank up the heating, it’s still bloody cold. So, I need to feel warm and cosy on the inside – okay?
My only true grievance is its crippling lack of diversity, merging of cultures or different classes. If only we’d witnessed someone who didn’t come from a “family of publishers” or had a non-white actor playing a leading role.
But, like all of Nancy Meyers’ films, the love story never fails to makes me feel good. It gives me hope that through all of the misery, mayhem and madness that seem to truly rise to the surface in the month of December, there’s still love – the best type, the corny kind belonging to a tale of two.
Images: Rex Features