The best way to get over a man is to find another one.

At least that’s what Los Angeles film-trailer producer Amanda (Cameron Diaz, “In Her Shoes”) and English writer Iris (Kate Winslet, “Little Children”) learn when they find themselves heartbroken and alone in the midst of the holiday season. Desperate for a change, they decide to swap houses via a website in order to enjoy a man-free vacation in a foreign country.

The rest is easy to figure out – love will be found, hearts will be broken and lovers will eventually be reunited. But “The Holiday” is able to reinvigorate this formula with just enough new characters and twists to make it enjoyable instead of repetitive. Within these safe boundaries, the film becomes surprisingly touching.

Then again, this effect can be easily overlooked if you’re too busy waiting for the off-kilter side of Jack Black (“Nacho Libre”) to emerge. While Black deftly plays Miles, a film composer who eventually falls for Iris when she’s in Los Angeles, it’s hard to separate his onscreen persona from his everyday reputation as the wild-eyed frontman of the band Tenacious D. His larger-than-life status (along with images of a spandex-clad, potbellied Nacho) precedes his performance, and it’s almost a letdown when it becomes clear how normal Miles is.

On the other hand, it’s a shame that Amanda doesn’t share Miles’s down-to-earth nature. Although it’s supposed to be funny that she’s on the brink of insanity when she jets off to England, her constant attempts to cry (which she’s been unable to do since childhood) makes her seem more like a drama-queen version of the Tin Man than someone to be pitied. Thankfully, all woes are forgotten when she meets Iris’s hunky older brother Graham (Jude Law, “Closer”). It’s further proof that people don’t need therapy – just some good loving.

Being that it is a holiday film, replacing Tim Allen with Jude Law gives “The Holiday” a certain aesthetic advantage over its competitors. Perhaps because of Law’s former nanny-diddling days, director and writer Nancy Meyer (“Something’s Gotta Give”) wisely chooses to go with a watered-down version of Law for Graham. He plays a downright sensitive man who isn’t afraid to profess his love for Amanda and cries when she leaves. And if this wasn’t enough, Amanda soon finds out more facts about his life that pigeonhole him into the good-guy mold.

Diaz’s so-so performance is no match for Winslet’s lighthearted portrayal of Iris. She becomes a weepy mess when she discovers that her ex-boyfriend is now engaged and her laments, which include a halfhearted attempt at inhaling the fumes from her stovetop, possess just enough comedy to keep her from looking truly suicidal. And in a “Love Actually” vein, the fact that Graham is her brother and Miles is friends with Amanda’s ex lets everyone become easy chums at the end.

Despite being a romance, the most endearing relationship in the film is the friendship between Iris and retired screenwriter Arthur Abbot (Eli Wallach, “A Taste of Jupiter”).

Arthur constantly recalls the good old days of Hollywood and inspires Iris to be a leading lady in love instead of a loser best friend. It’s a stock character the aged Wallach plays well and his scenes have more heart than a two-week fling ever could. Accordingly, “The Holiday” pulls through and even manages to relay the message that there’s more to happiness that loving another person – at least at first.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Holiday
At the Showcase and Quality 16
Columbia

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