By MATTHEW BAKER
The Holiday (2006)
Directed by Nancy Meyers
If a romantic comedy about fish out of water on Christmas vacation sounds too cutesy for some tastes, 91-year-old Eli Wallach’s performance as an irascible retired screenwriter from Hollywood’s Golden Age might provide just the right amount of lemon juice to balance all that sugary syrup. As Arthur Abbott – the writer who, in this film’s fictional world, put the word “kid” in the line “Here’s looking at you, kid” – Wallach is the wise and self-aware veteran of the type of romantic relationship his younger neighbors have such trouble navigating.
“There were no cineplexes or multiplexes,” Arthur reminisces about his arrival in Tinseltown, “before box office results were reported like baseball scores on the nightly news.” He doesn’t use his perspective to shame or dismiss the next generations, but rather to advise them on how to find and keep the happiness they seek and that he once had. The most touching relationship in this confection about relationships is the friendship between Arthur and his new neighbor Iris (Kate Winslet), who has come to Los Angeles to get over a toxic one-sided romance. “In the movies, we had leading ladies and we had best friends,” he tells her over an elegant dinner. “You, I can tell, are a leading lady. But, for some reason, you’re behaving like the best friend.”
Nancy Meyers’s strength as a director has always been that she makes movies for and about grown-ups. And The Holiday is no exception. Cameron Diaz and Jude Law’s lusty, sexually charged romance contrasts with Winslet and Jack Black’s simpler charming friendship that may blossom into something further. Meanwhile, Wallach’s Arthur rhapsodizes about his late wife’s “gumption” and encourages the younger ladies of today’s world to learn from her example, while recommending they watch such movies as The Lady Eve and His Girl Friday to see this trait firsthand.
As the film nears its climax, Arthur gives Iris a corsage as she prepares to escort him to a formal event and apologizes if it’s corny. She assures him: “I like corny. I’m looking for corny in my life.” The same dialogue might be offered between the film itself and its audience, which has shared as many knowing winks as have Arthur and friends.
The Holiday runs two hours and 16 minutes. It can be viewed for $3.99 on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMq3G0G_lnk.
Matthew Baker is a New York City historian and tour guide, newsletter editor for the National Federation of Tourist Guide Associations, and producer of the annual GANYC Apple Awards. A Player since 2000, he is artistic director of Poetry At The Players. His "Players On Screen" posts feature lesser-known appearances by our members.