by John S.
Movie Postmortems is a series that reviews certain films which showed promise but misfired, critically and/or commercially, upon release. Join us in our attempt to find out exactly what the hell happened.
THE CASUALTY: The Holiday
THE CASE HISTORY: December 2000. What Women Want, the Mel Gibson-Helen Hunt romantic comedy, opens big and rakes in over $33 million (about $55 million today) in its first weekend. It ultimately grosses $182 million (almost $300 million now) domestically, and $374 million (almost $600 million today) globally. This massive sucess makes What Women Want the most financially successful romantic comedy up until that point in time, taking the title away from Pretty Woman which scored the crown ten years prior in 1990.
This bodes very well for its director, Nancy Meyers. Meyers has forged a successful writing career, starting with Private Benjamin in 1980 and eventually collaborating with her now ex-husband, director Charles Shyers, on Baby Boom and the Father Of The Bride movies. Meyers then tried her own hand at directing and the promising result was the Lindsay Lohan-starring remake of The Parent Trap in 1998, which was a solid hit.
December 2003. Meyer’s follow-up to What Woman Want is released. Titled Something’s Gotta Give, the film stars Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. It opens with a decent $16 million, about half of What Women Want’s opening weekend take back three years prior. However, Something’s Gotta Give is met with strong reviews, praising the film’s engaging blend of emotion and humor. Nicholson and Keaton’s performances are critically-lauded, with the latter even scoring an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Not surprisingly, Something’s Gotta Give grows long legs at the box-office and ultimately tops out at around $124 million domestically (about $180 million now), and about $260 million globally (about $330 million today).
Fall 2006. Ads for Meyers’ much-anticipated fourth directorial effort are everywhere. Called The Holiday, it chronicles the romantic woes of two young women on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and how a last-minute home exchange vacation transforms them. The Holiday boasts impressive players: Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Jack Black in the main roles, with Eli Wallach, Ed Burns, and Shannyn Sossamon is supporting parts. Proof of Nancy Meyers’ clout as a director is evident in the film’s poster: there is no story tagline – just a straightforward statement that reads, “From the director of What Women Want and Something’s Gotta Give.”
December 2006. The Holiday opens to just under $13 million – not terrible, but decidedly lower than expectations given that cast and director. Reviews are very mixed. The film goes on to gross about $62 million domestically (about $85 million today), with overseas markets saving Christmas somewhat with an additional $141 million for a global total of just over $200 million (about $270 million in 2017 dollars). Taking into consideration The Holiday’s international performance, it’s a modest hit. However, focusing solely on its performance in North America, it becomes obvious it was less attended here than Something’s Gotta Give, What Women Want and even The Parent Trap (even before adjusted for inflation). After the strong-to-stellar reception of those films, The Holiday feels like a bit of a whiff in an otherwise admirable winning streak.
So… what the hell happened?
THE AUTOPSY DETAILS: The Holiday is a very uneven film. This movie is like watching two movies tangled together: one is mediocre and the other is quite good with the potential to be great – except the mediocre story keeps dragging the good story down. First, the good-could-have-been-great story: the Kate Winslet thread. Winslet overcomes some tired Sad Single Girl stereotypes to make Iris genuinely touching. Also, Winslet’s pairing with Jack Black is warm and engaging, refreshingly unlike the “plastic pairing” in the mediocre story. Black has the funniest line in the whole movie, when his character, Miles, reacts to Iris’ tale of woe with a glass of vodka.
However, the highlight of Winslet’s thread is Iris’ relationship with Arthur (Eli Wallach), a retired screenwriter who schools her on Old Hollywood Glamor and matters of life and love. This lovely element anticipates Meyers’ 2015 hit The Intern, which made the friendship between an older man (Robert De Niro) and the younger woman he mentors (Anne Hathaway) into the central premise of the whole movie. Had The Holiday been just about Iris, Miles, Arthur, and their regard for movies, music, and each other, this flick would’ve been so much better. Unfortunately, the mediocre story thread across the Atlantic keeps hogging the limelight.
Nothing about the Cameron Diaz-Jude Law “romance” feels authentic. To be clear, this is no fault of Diaz or Law. I find Diaz to be more likable in roles where she is flawed and – ironically – doesn’t care about being Miss Likable, and her character Amanda thankfully leans more that way. The problem is that Law is stuck playing a Stepford Boyriend who doesn’t have a single flaw to him. Graham feels less like a real human being and more like a Romantic Comedy Fantasy Figure Pleasure Robot. There’s no doubt that Jude Law is a serious talent, and he valiantly attempts to inject some shading and nuance to Graham in a couple of places. In the end, though, he is betrayed by a script that refuses to treat his overly-idealized “character” in any kind of realistic way.
None of Graham’s boring, perfect blandness might have mattered if Law and Diaz struck any kind of sparks the way Winslet and Black do. After all, many romantic comedies with potentially-stereotyped characters have worked well because of genuine chemistry between its leads (say, Pretty Woman) Unfortunately, while they are okay separately, Diaz and Law feel as plastic and artificial a couple as a Ken and Barbie doll set. Consequently, since the Graham-Amanda storyline takes up more screentime than the Iris-Miles-Arthur one – and we have to constantly cut back to it – The Holiday feels like barely half of a good movie.
LIKELY CAUSE OF DEATH: While some folks think of The Holiday as a classic Christmas movie and a solid romantic comedy, it’s clear it underperformed in North America when it first came out and was more polarizing than its better-received predecessors. It may have developed a following over time, but there are just as many folks who are not impressed by it. The culprit is probably a very uneven plot that entwines an engaging and refreshingly unconventional story thread with one that is cliche-ridden and dull, weakening the whole film overall.
NEXT CASUALTY: Dying Young – “Just When She’d Given Up On Love, She Fell For A Guy Who’d Given Up On Life.”
From 1989 to early 1991, Julia Roberts scored back-to-back-to-back-to-back hits with Steel Magnolias, Pretty Woman, Flatliners, and Sleeping With The Enemy. This romantic tearjerker was supposed to continue that awesome winning streak, with Premiere Magazine even predicting Dying Young would be the Number One movie for the Summer of ’91, calling it Love Story for a new generation. Unfortunately, it kind of tanked and lived up to its title instead. What in the name of America’s Sweetheart went wrong?
John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Theo James in anything, Steve Zahn in everything, Halloween (movie & holiday), South Park (cartoon & neighborhood), and Scarecrow Video – not necessarily in that order.