It took me a while to come around to The Holiday when it first premiered in 2006 for a simple reason: I think Cameron Diaz and Jude Law look like siblings and I didn’t want to see them kiss. “Nancy Meyers is making a film about boyfriend twins!” I exclaimed anachronistically because we weren’t using the term “boyfriend twins” then. “No thanks! I’ll fill my insatiable hunger for frazzled heroines and bespoke kitchens elsewhere!” Well, Nancy won me over, as she always does. I still think they look alike but whatever; so do half of the couples I follow on Instagram (who also, I should add, have marble countertops and newly-tiled backsplashes).
That said, the thing I continue to be gobsmacked by, 14 years later plus however time works in self-isolation, is the idea of home exchange. The plot of The Holiday is set in motion by a simple Google search by Cameron Diaz’s Amanda, who’s looking for vacation homes. She finds an adorable Coventry cottage owned by Kate Winslet’s Iris and decides to rent it. The catch is that the site is dedicated to house swaps—Iris would stay in Amanda’s L.A. mansion in exchange for Amanda crashing the Coventry pad. Somehow both parties agree to this over chat despite the fact that Amanda isn’t even a registered user of Home Exchange and Iris hasn’t even seen her house! And they are both strangers! Your honor, I object! Amanda has not agreed to the terms and conditions. This all smacks of a scam. Everyone in this scenario is too trusting and they need to take a timeout.
Yes, it is true I stay in Airbnbs all the time. But I am a complicated rom-com lead who sometimes does not think through my plans. Also, the owners of the Airbnbs aren’t hightailing it to my apartment to rummage through my cabinets and whatnot. Nevertheless, re-watching The Holiday in my apartment for the fifty-leventh day of my own forced “holiday,” I began to seriously entertain the concept of a quarantine swap. After a week of staring at my own Nancy Meyers kitchen, I’m ready to wash my hands for 20 seconds at someone else’s sink. This is totally doable. I could just meet someone at dueling distance out in the street (preferably my neighbor whose Peloton I can see from my living room window), toss them the keys, pick theirs off the ground, and suddenly I’m on a quarantine holiday! Living a new life! Kissing Jude Law! I see no flaws in this plan.
Iris and Amanda see no flaws in their respective and collective plans either. And for good reason: Their lives are a bit of a mess. Or, at least, the kind of mess that rom-coms allow wherein their jobs are going great and they have strong social circles, but their love lives have hit a snag that was a long time in the making. And, in rom-coms, throwing everything into the air in the name of personal renewal is the only sensible solution.
I think a lot about whether that’s sometimes the right response in real life. In an excerpt from my book Here for It published on ELLE.com last month, I wrote about that weird, frenetic feeling of wishing something big would happen to disrupt your life so you could have the permission to do the thing you really want. Like when you unexpectedly lose your job and decide to write that magnum opus you’ve been thinking about. That hits a little different now that something disruptive is happening. That opus seems a little less magnum lately.
Pictured: Jude Law making a meal out of putting on a pair of glasses. A meal! An entire buffet! Just delicious.
So, maybe a big push isn’t the answer. Or, at least, isn’t the full answer. Indeed, after Iris and Amanda make their exchanges and flee their lives, their lives follow them. Amanda’s sole vacation requirement is zero men in the vicinity, though of course, she meets a handsome widower and father of two who happens to be Iris’s brother (they didn’t write about that benefit on the Home Exchange site!). Iris, a journalist who writes wedding announcements, is looking to get over her ex, and the rules of rom-coms would suggest the best way to do that is with a new relationship. But shrewdly, the movie keeps eventual love interest Miles (Jack Black) at the periphery in favor of allowing her a “meet cute” with Arthur, the charming but lonely senior citizen next door. The thing we want out of the big disruption, it seems, is rarely the thing we need.
In The Holiday, the problem isn’t a specific physical place or set of circumstances, but rather, the quality of being out of sync with one’s place in life. Iris’s new friend, a delightful Eli Wallach, tells her, “In movies, there’s leading ladies and the best friend. You are not the best friend.” One of the best parts of having a prolonged period of time to spend with oneself, whether it’s in a Coventry cottage, an L.A. mansion, or on my neighbor’s Peloton, is that you get to sit with the joy of being your own leading lady. (Even in a film like The Holiday, which technically has two leads.) Like a Zoom conference of one, you’re the star. The story revolves around you! Jude Law is waiting just around the corner! (Which seems weird, I guess, but it is included in the terms and conditions of Home Exchange.) Make the most of it!