Amanda (Cameron Diaz) has a successful business cutting up new Hollywood releases into three-minute trailers that make the films look as enticing as possible. Writer-director Nancy Meyers essentially cuts up classic romantic comedies and reassembles them for modern consumption. The result is glossy fluff entertainment like What Women Want and Something’s Got to Give. They’re pretty to look at but they dissolve like cotton candy.
Amanda and Iris (Kate Winslet) find themselves with broken hearts just before Christmas. On impulse, they both go online and end up swapping homes for the holidays. Iris goes to Amanda’s glamorous house on movie star row in Los Angeles and Amanda ends up sliding around on high heels along the snowy road to Iris’s picturesque little cottage in the English countryside. And who should come to their doors but Jude Law as Graham, Iris’ brother, tipsy and looking for a place to sleep it off, and Jack Black as Miles, a soundtrack composer.
It’s hard to say whether the movie is being meta in its movie references (an old-time Hollywood screenwriter from next door gives Iris a must-watch list of classic romantic comedies and Amanda’s trailer for a Lindsay Lohan action film is one of the highlights), or just unimaginative and derivative. Probably a little bit of both. Too often, it is so formulaic you can see the little index cards — MUST HAVE: adorable guy with an English accent who is misunderstood and turns out to be even dreamier than we first thought; completely unnecessary romantic dash through the snow; character who announces that she can’t cry and so must then cry; cad who broke girl’s heart beg her to come back so she can turn him down, check, check, check. Oh, and just to make sure, let’s pick the safest, most predictable, guaranteed heart-tugger songs on the soundtrack. Even the delectable Diaz can’t make some of the behavior in this film feel anything but tawdry. There are some logistical impossibilities that will jar even the most beguiled of audiences out of the movie. It’s worst failings are its smugness about its own charms, unwarranted banner of female empowerment, and phony sincerity. But the stars and settings are undeniably appealing. If it is as synthetic and insubstantial as a Kinkade Christmas tree ornament, it is as pretty, too.
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy some of the classics recommended for Iris, including The Lady Eve and His Girl Friday, plus Holiday, a movie in the same genre also set around New Year’s Eve and with a title that might have inspired this one, starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. They will also enjoy Love Actually (very mature material) and Nancy Meyers’ other films, What Women Want and Something’s Gotta Give.