The only thing worse than a romantic comedy, is a meta-romantic comedy. The Holiday fully acknowledges its status as a romantic comedy by inserting a character who is an expert on such matters, a former Hollywood screenwriter; thus it thinks that it deserves kudos for being so brash and fun with the concept. The problem being that even a meta-romantic comedy is still a romantic comedy, so it has rules and guidelines that it must follow, no matter how “original” or “daring” it is with the concept.
The only movie I’ve ever seen that actually made the romantic comedy concept work on a level slightly higher than appealing to the viewer’s base sensibilities was Love Actually. Love Actually was comprised of a handful of stories, each one barely related to the other, kind of like You’ve Got Mail by way of Pulp Fiction. It worked because each story was short and concise and everything we needed to know about the characters was shown to us and anything else was inferred. Normally, each one of these little vignettes could have comprised an entire films worth of pandering nonsense, irrevocably ruining their concepts by adding filler like singing to a popular song of the era in which the film is made (and in turn dating the movie considerably) or perhaps dancing around candles or something. Love Actually was like a bunch of expanded trailers for a bunch of romantic comedies. Nothing was inherently different or good about the film other than its relieving concept to break up all the action between a bunch of people rather just focusing on Hugh Grant or Alan Rickman or Liam Neeson.
The real problem with The Holiday is that though it winks at the audience every once in a while, it still feels the need to jerk the audience off by including such romantic comedy mainstays like: meet-cutes, lip-synching to a popular song, dancing around a candle and/or piece of furniture, the jerk ex-boyfriend, the put upon female lead, the “breath of fresh air” male lead, montages, more meet-cutes, yet another put-upon female lead, the male lead with a secret that could prohibit him getting close with the female lead, last minute decisions that no one in their right mind would make (not giving a shit about spending tons of money on a plane ticket, then and the last second deciding you don’t want to go), oh yeah and a couple more meet-cutes for good measure.
I know, there’s a thing called suspension of disbelief. I’m supposed to go into every movie trusting that the director and/or writer of the film is God and the world they are showing us is world that exists outside of our reality. Eli Wallach plays an aging screenwriter long past his prime and he points out to a slumming-it Kate Winslet all the little things going on in her life that are just like the movies and how she could fix them, just like the movies. Cameron Diaz basically plays herself as a movie trailer editor whose life is interrupted occasionally by narration in the movie trailer guy voice. These bits are handled so poorly, it makes me think that I didn’t actually see them, and that I made them up, but they were so bad I don’t dare go back and check if they actually existed. I’m completely content with thinking they weren’t real, because that would make the movie a iota better in my mind. Like the universe that this movie is set in is one remarkably like ours except that it contains these brief quantum lapses where the collective subconscious of society simultaneously experiences these ethereal dream states and meta-interactions with our God/Creator. Hmm, maybe this movie was a little better than I thought. But no, the films director, Nancy Meyers, tries so hard to convince us that this movie is set in our world by including constant references to films we're familiar with, but its still run by the same conventions of the romantic comedy world.
A lot of people complain that movies like The Matrix and Natural Born Killers inspire kids to kill people (which they don’t, I assure you) but no one ever says anything about how movies like The Holiday and it’s bastard cousins convince people how to relate romantically to each other. Ask anyone what they’re idea of romance is and I can guarantee it’ll sound exactly like a scene from a shitty movie with Sandra Bullock and/or Hugh Grant in it. When you have this image in your mind of a Prince or Princess Charming and you convince yourself that you are going to find that one perfect person you will perpetually be disappointed because no one who fits your ideal actually exists. Love is about compromise, not compromise in the bad sense, but it is about realizing that not everyone is perfect, including yourself, and loving them for those imperfections. Imperfections are what make us unique, not all of us can be the great dad that Jude Law is, or the wonderfully random film composer that Jack Black is. We’re all who we are and the sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll find someone you can love.
Romantic Comedies don’t allow room for the truth, they are built upon lie after lie after lie. I’m not talking about the Hollywood “Truth” either, where in you discuss taboo topics or sweat a lot, I’m talking about the honest to goodness for real truth. There are all kinds of things wrong with The Holiday, I could devote a book to deconstructing its fallacies and ill-performed inaccuracies. If you’re going to be meta, commit to it, don’t fall into the same traps that you’re attempting to destroy.