To enjoy 'The Holiday,' book a flight of fancy

This Nancy Meyers flick about two women who trade places isn't as romantic as it is silly.

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

Sappy, sugary, star-driven, "The Holiday" is a confection right off the Hollywood assembly line. That is the Nancy Meyers assembly line. As co-writer of "Father of the Bride," "Baby Boom," "Irreconcilable Differences," and "Private Benjamin," and later as writer-director of "The Parent Trap" and "What Women Want" and director of "Something's Gotta Give," Meyers has carved out a niche for herself. She creates slapstick weepies in which women behave badly because men behave worse.

I don't think I've ever entirely believed a single minute of a Meyers movie, but that may be the point: Her films are extremely popular, and not only with the chick flick contingent, precisely because they're flapdoodle fantasies.

In "The Holiday," Cameron Diaz's Amanda has just kicked out her live-in boyfriend (Edward Burns) for cheating on her. A highly successful workaholic CEO, she goes online and finds a kindred soul in Iris (Kate Winslet), a London journalist hopelessly hooked on her rakish co-worker and ex-boyfriend (Rufus Sewell). The women impulsively swap homes for the holidays – Amanda's lavish Beverly Hills spread for Iris's cottage in snowy Surrey.

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Amanda dazzles Iris's brother Graham (Jude Law), a well-mannered book editor. Will she jettison her inner metronome and find true love?

Iris finds a safer consort – her nonagenarian neighbor Arthur (Eli Wallach, in a juicy cameo). A legendary screenwriter of Hollywood romances – he wrote extra dialogue for "Casablanca" – Arthur sees Iris for the prize she is. When good guy film composer Miles (Jack Black) turns up, she's primed for happiness.

Meyers isn't subtle. Diaz is encouraged to give a nerve-rackingly jumpy performance. Apparently highly successful businesswomen just don't know how to cool it until their dreamboat docks.

Weepy Iris is more homey and down-to-earth – a diamond in the rough. It's a a stretch seeing her get all googly with Miles, since Jack Black can't quite suppress his inner Jack Black. He tries hard to be normal, but those wiggly eyebrows of his keep doing the tango.

By introducing that famous old screenwriter into the mix, Meyers' is patting herself on the back. She's saying that the spirit of those classic love stories could be with us once again if only we gave ourselves up to the silly wonder of romance. Maybe so, but "The Holiday" is much more silly than romantic. Grade: B–

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some strong language.

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