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The Holiday: Frothy and Fun As a Cup of Cocoa

Holiday romantic comedies are bound to be a bit cheesy. When the movie is actually called The Holiday, cheesiness is almost guaranteed. But this latest romp from director Nancy Meyers, which hits theaters tomorrow, rises to the top of its frothy, feel-good genre. The self-aware storyline centers on two women—movie-trailer producer Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and British weddings columnist Iris (Kate Winslet)—who swap houses for the holidays to get away from their less-than-satisfactory love lives. Amanda, who sleeps with her Blackberry and has just ruined another relationship with her workaholism, goes to live in Iris's quaint Surrey cottage, while Iris takes up residence at Amanda's palatial LA haunt to forget her three-year unrequited love.

In the beginning, that scenario lends itself to too many scenes of lonely women talking to themselves; the ones featuring Diaz's high-strung Amanda are nearly intolerable. But when a trio of men enter the picture—including Iris's sexy, suntanned brother Graham (Jude Law)—things get a lot more interesting, so

Shortly after arriving in LA, Iris meets two very different men: a witty film-score composer named Miles (played with rare and refreshing subtlety by Jack Black) and Arthur (Eli Wallach), her octogenarian neighbor who also happens to be a legendary screenwriter. Back in England, Amanda makes the acquaintance of the hunky Graham when he shows up drunk at his sister's cottage, not knowing that she's gone on holiday.

To add drama to many of Amanda's scenes, the director employs a clever device: voice-over narration by that ubiquitous movie-trailer guy. Iris and Arthur, meanwhile, spend lots of time discussing the common conventions of script writing. That film-centric subplot on both continents gives the movie a sort of cheeky self-awareness about its own filmic-ness. That way, when the inevitable romantic-comedy cliches and convenient plot twists sneak in, it's more amusing than annoying.

I don't know what's gotten into me: maybe it's the holiday spirit or that my viewing of "The Holiday" comes on the heels of watching one of the worst romantic comedies I've even seen, Trust the Man, on a recent plane ride. (It wasn't even mentioned in the in-flight magazine, which makes me suspect that we were being subjected to a bizarre social experiment.) But implausibly neat and tidy plot aside, the way the characters interact in this movie rings very true to life. Particularly in the Iris/Los Angeles subplot, The Holiday addresses some very universal relationship truths in a clever way. I can't really say the same for the somewhat silly Amanda/Graham romance back in England, but at least there I had the Jude Law eye candy to keep me interested.

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