- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

Writer-director Nancy Meyers, who most recently delivered the 2003 Jack Nicholson vehicle “Something’s Gotta Give,” took a sizable gamble with her latest romantic comedy script. She penned the four leading characters for four specific stars: Jack Black, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Kate Winslet.

Luckily, she got her Christmas wish. And viewers get a nice seasonal package that, while containing a bit of unwanted fluff, ultimately brings many gifts (particularly to female audiences) — from lighthearted laughs to a charming performance from the splendidly handsome Mr. Law.

Like “Love Actually” and “Closer,” “The Holiday” splices together multiple stories for a more textured plot. It works; not too busy, and certainly not dull. Worthy of 131 minutes? Maybe not, but the story maintains a smooth flow.

Amanda (Cameron Diaz) is a high-powered movie trailer producer in L.A. who learns that her boyfriend (Edward Burns) has been cheating on her. Across the pond, Iris (Kate Winslet) writes a nuptials column in London and realizes she’ll have to stop obsessing about her ex when she gets her next assignment: covering his wedding. (Ouch.)

Both women are exasperatingly huffy and whiny in these opening moments. Iris is an even weepier, more pathetic Bridget Jones and Amanda, a cold, self-involved priss incapable of shedding a real tear. By creating such obnoxious sketches, Ms. Meyers gives her characters growing room — but man, are these broads borderline insufferable.

Amanda and Iris cross cyber-paths on a house-swapping Web site. Hoping to wash their respective men out of their hair, they rashly decide to trade addresses for the holidays, but, in the process, open the door to new trysts.

Amanda and Iris’ brother, Graham (Jude Law), quickly steam up the windows of Iris’ rustic English cottage. Meanwhile, Iris finds herself drawn to an older man (and no, it’s not Jack Black, as convention would lead you to believe). It’s Arthur (Eli Wallach), a delightful elderly gentleman who wrote screenplays during Hollywood’s golden era. Iris becomes his faithful buddy (nothing more), and they help each other feel comfortable in their skin.

Thus, while one of the film’s primary relationships is hot and heavy, the other is sweet and poignant. It’s unexpected, and very well balanced.

Throwing the equation a bit out of whack is Miles (Jack Black), a Hollywood musician who becomes increasingly intimate with Iris. Mr. Black’s role incorporates all the usual Jack-Black-isms: obscure music knowledge, goofy singing, and so forth. Perhaps the actor was cast for his zany humor and star power, but here, he just treads tired territory, leaving his character a bit lifeless in the process. Maybe he keeps Iris from going dateless, but it would be just as merry a “Holiday” without him.

The film’s themes of finding love in unexpected places and making it last in adverse circumstances might be age-old. But somehow, the talented Ms. Myers finds a way to make it feel new — just in time for the holidays.

**1/2

TITLE: “The Holiday”

RATING: PG-13 (for sexual content and some foul language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Nancy Meyers.

RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sony.com/theholiday

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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