When it comes to Christmas movies, The Holiday has a lot to answer for

CChristmas – the most wonderful time of the year – has given humanity some truly terrible things over the past 2022 years. Bitter boiled sprouts. Brexit arguments around the dinner table. Mrs Brown’s boys specialties. But very few reach the depths of the holiday season’s most terrifying nadir: the sight and sound of Cameron Diaz in the 2006 romantic comedy The holiday belts out a drunken rendition of The Killers’ ‘Mr Brightside’.

Usually it’s the exclusive domain of beer-drenched dads, and usually a sign that they have no discernible taste in music. IN The holiday, it’s an expression of a sister fending for herself in a man-free zone—until Jude Law shows up at the door and gives a wounded, single father sob story. Then Diaz’s scorned sister realizes that she needs a man after all.

Yes, welcome to The holidayan interminable Christmas treat (all two hours and 16 minutes of it) in which two heartbroken women – Diaz’s movie trailer producer, Amanda, and Kate Winslet’s doe-eyed Daily Telegraph journalist, Iris – change homes for Christmas. (“Are there any men in your town?” “Zero.” “When can I come?”). Inevitably, they find love on opposite sides of the pond: Amanda with pseudo-complicated Graham, played by Law, in the British countryside; and Iris with annoyingly innocent film composer Miles, played by Jack Black, in glittering LA. “I like corny,” says Iris. Which is just as well, really.

The holiday has somehow become a perennial TV favorite at Christmas time (turn on ITV4 this second, The holiday is almost certainly on). Sure, it has stinkers that Santa Claus: The Movie and Jingle all the waybut The holiday is more than just a dollop of festive foam. The holiday, the kind of sentimental gumpf that can cut eggnog, has legitimized the Hallmark movie, or cheap, nauseating affairs with made-for-TV vibes. Indeed, the film’s mystifying popularity—$205.8 million at the box office and a seasonal ubiquity behind only Santa, Wham! and Christ Himself – have almost killed the quality Christmas movie. Follows on from The holiday, the genre has been dominated by a string of ill-fated love comedies – all packed with quirky kawinkidinks and sweet misunderstandings. Most of these are currently clogging your algorithms on Netflix and appear to star Vanessa Hudgens.

I knew The holiday was trouble before I had clapped my eyes on it. In Christmas 2006, I did a bit of stereotypically gendered cinema: I went to see Casino Royale on one of the multiplex screens; my partner and aunt went to see The holiday on another. When I met in the foyer afterwards, my partner gave a full report. As I had been gripped by the last few minutes of Daniel Craig’s tough Bond reinvention – almost to the second Craig finally said, “The name is Bond. James Bond” – my aunt had stood up during The holidayhis closing credits and loudly announced, “That was the best movie I’ve seen in ages!” Dear old aunt – not known for her critical eye – was a harbinger of the waffle which The holiday would visit me every Christmas like an unwelcome Santa, not down the chimney but via the ITV schedules.

Written, directed and produced by Nancy Meyers (of Something has to give way and Father of the bride fame), The holiday is like a movie raised on a morbid diet of Love Actually and Bridget Jones’s Diary. The result is a regurgitation of plummy women who fall for unpleasant poshos; stomach-churning serious men; and a fairytale-like cottage in Surrey, where men like Jude Law appear as if by magic to seduce troubled women in an uncanny way.

Amanda is a painfully high-maintenance stereotypical wine at “I want to eat carbs without wanting to kill myself,” she says, panicking about aging. Too frosty to be loved properly, she hasn’t cried since she was 15. Fear not: 45 minutes of Jude Law will have her crying like a proper woman soon enough. Trying to leave Rufus Sewell’s monstrous adulterer, Jasper, Iris is a dozing mess – chasing men and breaking down at the mere mention of the word ‘single’.

The men in The holiday is not better. Law’s character is a dreamy widower, though the healthy banter with his daughters would probably make any real parent sick on the spot. He spouts self-analyzing psychobabble and admits to having “the classic male no-follow-up problem” – i.e. not calling back the women he’s slept with – like Joey from Friends but with a conscience. He is also prone to lines that are desperate for Jerry Maguire-similar status. “I finally know what I want, and it’s a miracle,” he tells Amanda. “And what I want is you.” (The serious single dad as a love interest is a staple of modern festive romcoms, usually with a wise-ass daughter who is passing beyond her years doing some matchmaking on his behalf.)

Black’s character, meanwhile, is too saccharine for his own good. There isn’t a man who wouldn’t recognize lines like “I’m just a one-woman-at-a-time kind of guy” for being just that: a line. The only decent guy here is Arthur, played by Eli Wallach, an old screenwriter whom Iris befriends in Los Angeles. Arthur’s function is to harken back to Hollywood’s golden age and explain the tropes of romantic comedies. Actual, The holiday trying to have its Christmas pudding and eat it too, convincing itself that it is self-aware. Watch Amanda imagine her love life in the form of Hollywood-based movie trailers, or Miles sing the score to The graduating student while Dustin Hoffman – in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo – suddenly appears nearby.

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The irony is a film that belongs to a classic Hollywood tale, which, seen in its endless chatter about old scripts and scores, has encouraged an increasingly worse trend in Christmas movies. In the eternal mission to pump out simple content, Netflix has released a stream of gimmicky, holiday-little romances: The princess wrestler films; The Knight Before Christmas; Christmas heritage; A Christmas prince; Holiday; and A castle for Christmas – all deliberately awful, all watched semi-ironically (but watched anyway), and usually feature a fading star name, plus a supporting cast of actors who tragically can’t act.

Cameron Diaz and Jude Law in “The Holiday”

(Universal)

These are Hallmark movies by any other name – in fact, many of them are produced by the Motion Picture Corporation of America, which also produces for the Hallmark Channel. The holiday has made this kind of movie legit. The latest offender is Netflix Falling before Christmas, in which Lindsay Lohan’s spoiled heiress falls off a mountain, suffers amnesia and falls for a mean single father. You can also lump Paul Feig’s completely bizarre-but-at-least-enjoyable Last Christmas into that category, a movie about heart transplants, ghosts, pro-immigration sentiment and, erm, the hits of George Michael.

Don’t get me wrong, there is room for the trashy Christmas movie. As a child I was delighted to wake up in the school holidays and watch that TV movie about Fred Savage befriending a vagrant. For every decent effort at a Christmas movie now – a rarity, in all honesty, like the Kurt Russell Santa caper The Christmas Chronicles – we get three (yes, three) princess switch-es. Being bad has become mainstream. I blame The holiday.

The worst part, of course, is that I watch them all. Annual. Because what is Christmas if not an exercise in enduring the very worst of the most wonderful time of the year, all in the name of tradition?

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