November 23, 2021

The 2006 movie "The Holiday" is available on Netflix for one more week. I had the chance to watch it again with Cathy recently. It strikes me that this movie contains some themes that are particularly relevant to this group.

The film involves four mid-single adults trying to find their way. Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz) is a highly successful and wealthy creator of film trailers. She is also a workaholic who is so emotionally shut down that she can't cry. We learn as the film progresses that her emotionally stunted personality stems from being blindsided by her parents' divorce at a young age. She had thought they were really close and she and her parents had called themselves, "The Three Musketeers." Early in the film, Amanda breaks up with her boyfriend, partly based on her inability to connect emotionally, and decides she needs a vacation. She wants to stop working and reevaluate, and she wants to read an actual book rather than just magazines.

Amanda goes online and arranges a house swap with a girl in Surrey, England named Iris (Kate Winslet), who has been in love for several years with a man named Jasper (Rufus Sewell) who rejects her but hangs around so that Iris will do favors for him and play the role of his best friend. When he announces his engagement to someone else, Iris is heartbroken and she also needs a vacation. Thus, Iris takes a plane to Los Angeles and Amanda takes a plane to London and they temporarily swap houses.

Iris's vacation begins well. She loves Amanda's luxurious house with all of its amenities. She also befriends a legendary retired screenwriter named Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach) who lives next door and makes it a project to get him in shape to attend and speak at an event in his honor without the aid of a walker.

One evening when Iris takes Arthur to dinner, he tells her that she is a leading lady who is behaving like the best friend. She observes that, in over a year of therapy, her therapist never summed up her problem that well. Over the course of this film, Arthur helps to teach Iris about "gumption" through conversation, and recommendations of classic movies.

For Iris, the story is about finding the confidence, "gumption," and self-respect to let go of a man who does not value her and welcome a kind and sincere film music composer into her life, who has exactly the same problem. His name is Miles (Jack Black) and he begins the film smitten with his cheating girlfriend Maggie (Shannon Sossaman). He laments his propensity for picking the bad girls. Miles and Iris create an endearing friendship as they both find greater self understanding regarding their unhealthy relationship patterns and disrespect of themselves.

Meanwhile, Amanda's vacation does not begin so well. She is having a difficult time with driving on the left side of the road and feels lonely and depressed in a quiet cottage out in the country. She has been a workaholic so long, that she is experiencing withdrawal symptoms. On the first day she makes up her mind to just go home. However, that evening, Iris's handsome brother Graham (Jude Law) shows up drunk and looking for a place to crash for the night. Feeling bored and desperately lonely, Amanda asks Graham to have a one-night stand with her. She promises not to fall in love with him or otherwise complicate his life. He confesses to her that his life is a mess and says that she is better off without him. Of course, despite their firm resolves not to get involved with each other, they do. Amanda's feelings for Graham deepen as she comes to appreciate his sensitivity, strength, and kindness. He has an ability to express feelings that she lacks.

One evening, Amanda is feeling bad about her standoffishness toward Graham earlier in the day, and she shows up at his house with a bottle of wine and some snacks. When he answers the door, Amanda finds out that Graham has two precocious little daughters who quickly win her heart. She also finds out that Graham is a devoted father and a widower of two years. He confesses that he reads parenting books before bed and is learning to sew. This family element of Graham's life adds a new dimension to Amanda's deepening feelings for him.

Toward the end of the movie, Graham confesses that he is in love with Amanda. But she is afraid of the cross-continental obstacles to their relationship. Being emotionally stunted, she is unable to admit that she loves Graham in return. With that realization, he determines that he needs to let her go. As Amanda is being driven to the airport in a limo, she begins crying real tears for the first time since her parent's divorce. She takes this as a sign that she loves Graham.

The message here is that Graham is the first person she ever truly let in. I think we have a deep yearning as human beings to be seen and accepted for who we are--but we are also afraid of it. It makes us feel very vulnerable because, if someone sees the part of us that is most sensitive and cannot accept it, we feel devalued and invalidated.

Similarly, Graham had not voluntarily disclosed that he was a widower with two young children. He wondered how adding a woman to his life might change the identity of his little family, who called themselves "The Three Musketeers." (When Amanda hears about this, it is a beautiful little piece of symbolism that her journey has come full circle.) Graham's daughters and his domestic life was a part of himself that he tried to compartmentalize as he played the part of the swinging single man dating. In this film, both Graham and Amanda learn to be more open and vulnerable, which is how they create connection--albeit clumsily.

After she begins crying real tears, Amanda instructs the chauffer to turn around and she returns to Iris's house and tells Graham that she wants to stay and be his date for New Years Eve. He tells her he has his daughters on New Years Eve, to which she responds "sounds perfect." Meanwhile, Miles asks Iris if she would be his date on New Year's Eve if he flew to England. She enthusiastically accepts.

A lot of the plot lines in this film are left hanging. We don't know how either couple resolves the complexities of their cross-continental romance. However, we are left with the impression that they have grown emotionally, received more self-understanding, and been blessed by the opportunity to love and be loved. I see this movie as a profound story about the importance of respecting ourselves in relationships as well as vulnerably opening our hearts and allowing ourselves to be seen.

So, before November 30, when it goes off Netflix, invite a friend over, pop some popcorn, and enjoy this heartwarming holiday classic. And, while you do, think about whether you are more afraid to be vulnerable like Graham and Amanda; or if, perhaps, you tend to get lost in relationships and allow your partner to disrespect you because you somehow believe that's what love is. In a way, this film is not about four lost souls finding their way. It is about all of us.
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