Cast your mind back to 2006. Myspace was the most visited website in the world, Blockbuster had the best selection of movies to rent on a Friday night, Nelly Furtado was the reigning pop queen with “Promiscuous” taking over radios and this new video platform called YouTube. And a Christmas movie about two transatlantic love affairs called The Holiday was released on November 29th, soon to become a classic.
Since it’s probably been at least a year since you last re-watched The Holiday, here’s a peppermint-flavored refresher: Iris (Kate Winslet) is the wedding correspondent for an English newspaper (which was still a thing in 2006) and hopelessly in love with her colleague Jasper (Rufus Sewell), the ex who dumped her so he could “shag” Sarah from the circulation department while also stringing Iris along. When Jasper and Sarah’s engagement is announced to the entire staff at the office Christmas Eve party, Iris finally realizes it’s time to move on.
Meanwhile, across the world in Los Angeles, Amanda (Cameron Diaz) is the high-strung owner of a movie advertising business who finds out her soon-to-be-ex cheated on her with his 22-year-old receptionist. Via the magic of a very quaint-looking house-swapping website, Iris and Amanda spontaneously decide to trade places for the holiday season.
During this holiday/vacation (depending on which branch of English you’re speaking), Amanda has a lot of sex with Iris’s smokin’ hot brother, Graham (Jude Law). Iris has a lot of laughs with super sweet soundtrack composer Miles (Jack Black), while learning about “gumption” from classic movie writer and widower Arthur (Eli Wallach). By the end of the movie, Miles and Iris have ditched their toxic exes, and he’s decided to fly to England for New Year’s Eve. Meanwhile, Amanda and Graham have decided that they aren’t just “shagging,” they’re in love. Aww.
Except, not aww.
Look, this movie has a lot of the requisite ingredients for a British/American Christmas movie. There is improbable English snow, a jolly festive soundtrack, a cutesy cottage setting contrasted with a modern L.A. mansion. There are even turtleneck sweaters and a dog. But that joyful, festive sheen disguises the fact that the love stories in this rom-com are as precarious as a snowman in the winter sun.
Let’s start with Iris and Miles. Both of them have a bad record with love: Miles always “falls for the bad girl,” including his most recent ex, who ditches him at Christmas to be with her side bae then parades her illicit love affair by the window of a Blockbuster where Miles and Iris just happen to be hanging out. Iris, meanwhile, is a Jasper-obsessed hot mess when she arrives to California. During her time there, she manages to kick the habit, and then kick him out when he busts in on her me-time.
While it’s great that Miles and Iris dumped their horrible exes, they have zero sexual chemistry.
It feels like they only end up together because their respective exes make the other person look wonderful by comparison. Even at the New Year’s Eve party, they look more like friends than a couple in their honeymoon phase. And with a nine-hour time difference—especially since this before Skype was a thing—you can’t imagine them in a sustainable romantic relationship. It seems more likely that their connection will fade away over unanswered emails, and they’ll eventually break up over an international phone call that costs nearly as much as a plane ticket. They’ll probably promise to stay friends, but secretly know that’s unlikely.
And then you have Amanda and Graham. At least the movie actually acknowledges the obstacles facing these two, namely that Graham has two completely adorable daughters whose lives he doesn’t want to further disrupt after losing their mother. Then we have Amanda, who is committed to her demanding career that can’t be transplanted from L.A. to, well, Surrey. And add in the same problems facing Iris and Miles—time difference, no Skype, etc.—and you can see why they have that tearful breakup (on his side) right before Amanda leaves.
Yet, immediately, after all these issues have been spelled out for us, all common sense deserts Amanda—and the plot. She realizes that leaving Graham is making her cry, something she hasn’t been able to do since her parents divorced. This odd epiphany is enough to send her running back down the icy road, risking serious ankle injury and a hefty hospital bill (the NHS isn’t free for Americans, Amanda). Finding Graham still in his sister’s cottage, she doesn’t tell him, “I love you, too,” but rather that she’s going to stay until New Year’s Eve. Not exactly the romantic declaration of the century.
And what then, Amanda?
When these two wake up on New Year’s Day, hungover, with that gray feeling accompanying the end of the holiday season, they will still have the exact same problems they did on the 31st of December. Graham still has two children he can’t drag across the world. Amanda still has a career that will not translate to the rolling, sheep-studded hills of Surrey. And, let’s remember again, that there’s no Skype. As someone who maintained a transatlantic relationship for nearly two years, I can tell you that as hard as it was to mostly communicate through Facebook Messenger and Skype, it would have been so much more difficult without them.
And that was without two kids.
I’m not here to destroy The Holiday, like a rom com-hating Grinch. It remains one of my favorite Christmas movies, probably because it is so damn optimistic.
I actually love The Holiday and think it’s due for a sequel.
We need something that shows us how these couples made it work beyond twinkling, sparkling, wonderful Christmastime. What was it like back in the real world of time differences, school runs, and work deadlines?
Maybe Miles and Iris drift apart and then reconnect over Facebook years later. Maybe Graham and his daughters move out to L.A., where they can trade their crisp English newsreader accents for a glamorous Californian drawl. Instead of abandoning these characters on New Year’s Eve—the precipice of new beginnings—let’s wake up the next day and see how they go from just a holiday romance to a true love story.