It may not be proof that miracles do happen, but with Something's Gotta Give (2003), the writer-director Nancy Meyers took a leap from the processed screwball of movies like her 2000 hit What Women Want to something zesty and stirring and wittily adult. It's as if Rachael Ray had blossomed into Alice Waters. Now Meyers is back with The Holiday, and I'm sad to report that it's just a cookie-cutter chick flick, albeit one made with some fancy butter and powdered frosting.
Why cookie-cutter? Because of the too self-consciously ''old-fashioned'' Nora Ephron premise: Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet as neurotic singletons, one a highly stressed Los Angeles editor of movie trailers, the other a deeply tender London newspaper reporter, who agree over the Internet to swap homes for Christmas vacation. Because of the grating, insecurity-lit-up-in-neon way that Diaz overplays the role of a too-organized, high-functioning, no-tears yuppie who keeps imagining her life as a blockbuster trailer of romantic clichés except that the schlocky fantasy trailer doesn't look all that different from the movie we're watching. Because of the way that Winslet, as a woman devoted to a scoundrel (Rufus Sewell) who doesn't love her, lays on the sub–Bridget Jones dithering until you practically have to squint to believe that a 21st-century woman this beautiful could be this much of a doormat. And because of how each actress gets one embarrassing rock & roll air-guitar scene. And I haven't even mentioned the men.
Okay, I know that male movie critics aren't allowed to complain that a chick flick is formulaic; it would be like me griping that the latest issue of Cosmo includes too many Wild Lovemaking Positions You've Never Seen Before. Yet I now officially expect more from Nancy Meyers. There's no denying her facility, though. The dialogue has a perky synthetic sheen, and with the exception of Diaz, Meyers brings out the best in her actors Winslet, her sexy vulnerability aglow; Jack Black, as the film-score composer who woos her, dialing down his mad energy to reveal the sweetness beneath; and Jude Law, as Diaz's suitor, too chivalrous to resist as a man too good to be true. So eat up, chick-flickaholics! Even if you know it's not good for you.