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      The Holiday Review

      The Holiday poster

      The Holiday

      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      This one's more of a working vacation. "The Holiday" is a 131-minute romantic comedy for those who, if they had their way, would still be watching "Love Actually."

      Star power is not nothing, though, and "The Holiday" has that covered, thanks to its toothsome cast - they're a dental paradise, this lot - and to a premise (L.A. dame exchanges houses with a Brit) requiring little elaboration. Writer-director Nancy Meyers elaborates the daylights out of her story anyway. The result is a 90-minute tale mistakenly fitted for a two-hours-plus-sized girdle.

      Cameron Diaz plays Amanda, who runs her own movie-trailer production house. All work and no sex, this brittle Hollywood specimen discovers her boyfriend (Edward Burns, out of the picture early) has been cheating, and just like that, she's alone for the holidays. In London, meantime, doormat Iris (Kate Winslet) writes the wedding column for the Daily Telegraph. She pines for a co-worker (Rufus Sewell) she dated, briefly, three years ago.

      Even with the ebullient Winslet doing the pining - she's the best excuse to see "The Holiday" - you wonder if Meyers was so focused on establishing her main characters as frustrated, lonely and wanting that she forgot about the "interesting" part. Once Iris finally lands in sunny, smog-free L.A. and Amanda settles into her provincial vacation cottage outside London, the fish-out-of-water montages begin. Here's Iris playing air-guitar with a pillow and marveling at the size of Amanda's plasma TV. There's Amanda having the devil's own time driving on the "wrong" side of the road. Amanda finds love with Iris' dashing book-editor brother Graham (Jude Law), whose big secret provides the requisite third-act complication. Iris attracts the wagging-eyebrows interest of film composer Miles (Jack Black).

      Eli Wallach portrays Amanda's L.A. neighbor, a long-retired Oscar-winning screenwriter. In his first encounter with the visiting Iris, he explains the concept of the "meet-cute," the plot-dependent novelty bringing two characters together. "Well, this was some meet-cute!" he says to her. Meet-cutes are cuter without the self-consciousness. Similarly, there's a scene where Miles strolls a video store aisle with Iris and goes on about what a great score Hans Zimmer wrote for "Driving Miss Daisy." Zimmer scored "The Holiday." Isn't that adorable?

      Meyers has talent, and often connects with a wide audience: She co-wrote and directed the engaging "Parent Trap" remake and made piles showcasing the adorability of Mel Gibson in "What Women Want" and Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton in "Something's Gotta Give." With "The Holiday," Meyers creates a pair of smart, insecure women ripe for the romantic picking. So why do they come off like such drips? Because they're not in charge of their situations. They're pawns in a tediously attenuated narrative. Diaz doesn't help matters; this is one of her most strident performances. And surely the writer has better material in her than Law's speech to Diaz: "I'm a book editor from London. You're a beautiful movie trailer-maker from L.A. We're worlds apart." That's not dialogue; that's a memo from a pitch meeting.

      The major characters in "The Holiday" all write or edit for a living, yet nobody in it has much of a way with words. You notice the deficiency, because Meyers goes out of her way to extol the glories of a vanished screwball age. The Wallach character tutors Iris in the glories of Preston Sturges' "The Lady Eve" and turns her on to the "gumption" captured by Irene Dunne in Leo McCarey's classic "The Awful Truth." To paraphrase Mark Twain's joke about the weather: Everybody in Hollywood talks about Sturges, but nobody does anything about him. Way back to "Private Benjamin" (which had some real snap) and "Baby Boom," Meyers' scripts have bemoaned our diminished notion of romantic possibility, noting the gulf between love according to the movies and love according to life.

      Fine. So do something about it. Write some dames who can really dish it out, and carry a movie.

      "The Holiday"

      Written and directed by Nancy Meyers; cinematography by Dean Cundey; edited by Joe Hutshing; production design by Jon Hutman; music by Hans Zimmer; produced by Meyers and Bruce A. Block. A Columbia Pictures release. Running time: 2:11. MPAA rating: PG-13 (sexual content and some strong language).

      Amanda - Cameron Diaz

      Iris - Kate Winslet

      Graham - Jude Law

      Miles - Jack Black

      Arthur - Eli Wallach

      Ethan - Edward Burns

      Jasper - Rufus Sewell

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