Amanda (Diaz) is a producer of Hollywood trailers who has just thrown out her unfaithful boyfriend; Iris (Winslet) is an English journalist unable to get over the caddish coworker she once dated. These two sob sisters, both in need of a getaway, find each other online and agree to swap houses over Christmas. Out of her element in the Surrey countryside, Amanda falls for Iris’s swoony brother, Graham (Law). In L.A., Iris befriends the next-door neighbor, an elderly screenwriter (Wallach), and edges toward romance with film composer Miles (Black).
Diaz gets to do the goofy physical comedy at which she excels; Law has the ridiculous charm of a latter-day Cary Grant; Winslet, not a natural comedian, is perfectly winning. The biggest laughs, unsurprisingly, are scored by Black—especially during his tour of a video store performing wacky scat-sung renditions of movie themes. But though we applaud the nontraditional casting, Black appears lost as a romantic lead. And while the director tips her hat to classic Hollywood comedies—Iris watches Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday for lessons in leading-lady “gumption”—The Holiday wallows in too much earnest relationship talk, without saying much. Hawks knew that grand ideas about the nature of love had to be slyly smuggled in under a cover of brilliant, nonstop banter. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.)—Tom Beer