The Holiday is a Schrodinger's Cat film. It is simultaneously great and extremely bad. At times, it is emotionally evocative and does contain moments of genuinely good acting. At others, it is painfully predictable and features a four-minute scene of Oscar-winner Kate Winslet jumping around with glee over a blind.
The issues with the 2006 film’s storyline are well documented (google “The Holiday,” and one of the first articles that appears is titled “There is a HUGE plot hole in The Holiday”), due to its lack of any temporal structure, plus the fact that it depicts male Telegraph journalists as potentially shaggable. And yet every Christmas, I keep coming back to relive its cosy, romantic moments and marvel at the high-end knitwear. It’s so darn watchable!
The Holiday follows Iris, played by Winslet, and Amanda, played by Cameron Diaz: two women with seemingly no concept of money, who switch homes to escape their loveless Christmases alone. Iris flies to LA, while Amanda arrives in an idyllic countryside village in Surrey, “40 minutes commute” from London. To everyone’s surprise, they find people they want to bone.
Much like The Holiday's storyline, its food scenes are confusing and upsetting. The main problem is that they have no connection with Christmas, which perhaps isn’t that weird for a Christmas film that doesn’t actually acknowledge Christmas Day. The rare scenes that do involve both food and Christmas must be fully analysed to comprehend this film of contradictions. The first is Diaz’s iconic food shopping sequence.
Shaken from her drive down a country road that inexplicably turns into a village high street, Amanda heads to the nearest shop—the kind of place that would charge you £4 for 12 olives but you just know they’d be good. Having expressed the notably unwoke (post-woke?) line, “I want to eat carbs without wanting to kill myself” before escaping to England, Amanda is on a food bender. Wine bottle in one hand, shopping trolley in the other, she fills that baby up like every packet of oatcakes is one step closer to true, body positive #empowerment. Two packets of De Cecco spaghetti? Yes please! I also spot half a wheel of Brie, snowman cookies, a Christmas cake, chocolate baubles, peanuts, mince pies, bread that is clearly sourdough, and two bottles of wine.
“Someone’s having a party,” the lady at the checkout says. And indeed, this moment of freedom and self-love is the only party Amanda needs. The Holiday, with its plot holes, confusing grasp of English geography, and disregard for dogs (who the fuck is looking after Kate Winslet’s dog?), has somehow managed to create the aspirational shopping moment of my dreams. Amanda is going in, living the life I would like to live on a wholesome December evening with a bottle of wine to myself and all the artisan baked goods I could ever wish for. It is also arguably the most—if not the only—Christmassy moment in the entire film, as it features an actual mince pie and socially unacceptable amounts of cheese.
The Holiday’s first food scene clearly adheres to Christmas film food convention. It’s warming, comforting, and depicts stuff everyone enjoys eating at Christmas. See also: the final dinner in The Muppet Christmas Carol, but not any moment from Love, Actually.
After this point, everything sort of unravels. Despite the encouraging precursor in the village shop, The Holiday contains no further festive culinary moments. Sure, we have a few dinner scenes used to hurry along everyone getting to know each other. Amanda and Graham, played by Jude Law, have dinner, and Iris dines out with the old man neighbour, who the narrative kind of implies she might end up fucking, despite having also introduced the similarly unsuitable romantic lead of Jack Black’s character, Miles. Strangely, everyone seems very willing to give up crucial (albeit, inaccurate, seeing as writer and director Nancy Meyers literally squeezes about three extra days into the period) December evenings to hang out with people they’ve only just met. Where’s your irritating social obligation to your ex-work colleagues after you agreed to do a “Christmas drink” on WhatsApp two months ago and then forgot? Do you even have any family?
The next collection of food moments in the film is one I like to call, “Oscar-Winner Kate Winslet (Iris) Makes Food For Men.” In one scene, Iris cooks Hanukkah brisket for her elderly neighbour and his mates (side note: I double-checked the dates of Hanukkah in 2006 and this is actually accurate, so the film did get one detail about the time frame right). Then there’s the scene where she offers to cook for Miles. This brings us to the only other Christmassy food reference in The Holiday, except, in-keeping with the theme of bizarre contradictions, it is not in the slightest bit Christmassy.
Let me set the scene. Miles is upset because he has just discovered his girlfriend is cheating on him with someone who is as good-looking as she is. It’s Christmas Eve, and he and Iris are talking about their shitty love lives.
“So, how about some food?” Iris says to Miles. “Shall I make us a little Christmas fettuccine?”
And herein lies the clearest representation of The Holiday’s contradictions. Of all the things Meyers could have written, in this supremely festive moment on Christmas Eve, she chooses to fabricate a Christmas dish that’s so unusual, it makes a mockery of festive film food scenes everywhere. I mean, fettuccine? What the fuck? Italians don’t even eat that at Christmas. Why not, like, a glass of mulled wine or one of those cute German gingerbread biscuits? No, let’s have an obscure Italian pasta that has literally no connection to Jesus or LA or winter.
There are things we can forgive The Holiday for. The snack known as unusually-tanned-for-that-time-of year Jude Law, not to mention the fact that it’s the 12th highest grossing film of the 2000s from a female director. Who knows if Meyers knows what Surrey is, if the Writers Guild of America would organise a tribute evening in four days over the Christmas holidays for a geriatric writer who would probably be implicated in the #MeToo movement, or if the film is any good.
Just please don’t tell me fettuccine is a Christmas thing.