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Special Relationships. Anglo-American Stereotypes in Nancy Meyer's Film "The Holiday"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2009 17 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Culture and Applied Geography

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. About the Film
2.1. General Information
2.2. Historic Context
2.3. Plot summary

3. Anglo-American Stereotypes in the Film – Characters and Setting
3.1. The American Characters
3.1.1. Amanda Woods
3.1.2. Miles Dumont
3.1.3. Arthur Abbott
3.2. The British Characters
3.2.1. Iris Simpkins
3.2.2. Graham Simpkins
3.3. The Setting
3.3.1. California
3.3.2. Amanda’s Mansion
3.3.3. Surrey
3.3.4. Iris’ Cottage

4. Anglo-American Contrasts
4.1. Hollywood’s Film Industry vs. England’s Literary Tradition
4.2. Modernity vs. Tradition

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

“The house exchange confirms our most improbable visions of how the other side of the pond lives” [1]

The Holiday is a romantic comedy that tells the story of two women who change their love lives by changing their homes. However, this paper does not deal with amorous involvements and personal happy endings; it aims to analyse the various Anglo-American stereotypes that are used in the film and what they can tell us about the special relationship between the USA and the UK.

In order to do so, some general information about the film and its historic context will be given. Following this, there will be a short plot summary. Then, the paper will examine which Anglo-American stereotypes are displayed by the characters and the settings. To end with, two major cultural differences between the USA and the UK will be discussed.

2. About the Film

2.1. General Information

The Holiday is a romantic comedy which was released in 2006. The screenplay was written by Nancy Meyers, an American director, producer and screenplay writer, who also directed the film. The movie is starring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black. It won the Teen Choice Award 2007 and was nominated for several other prizes, including the ALMA Award 2007 and the NRJ Cinè Award 2007.[2]

2.2. Historic Context

In 2006, the relationship between the USA and the UK was not at its best. It was the third year of the war in Iraq and the fifth year of the rather special relationship between Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair and the President of the United States George W. Bush. While the Americans appreciated the British as valuable support in the war, the British people strongly disliked the close relationship to the USA and felt that Tony Blair presented himself as Bush’s poodle. In a Times poll, 65% of the British sample “agreed that Britain’s future lies more with Europe than with America” and only 44% of the participants agreed that “America is a force for good in the world”[3]. A Guardian/ICM poll found out that 63% of the British think that Blair “has tied Britain too closely to the US”[4].

Although the film was released in 2006 and has a contemporary setting, it does not give any clues regarding the difficult relationship between the USA and the UK in these times. It rather focuses on interpersonal relationships than on political or economic issues.

2.3. Plot summary

The centrepiece of the movie is a home exchange between two women: Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz), owner of a prosperous film trailer company in Los Angeles and Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet), a sentimental wedding columnist for The Daily Telegraph in London. They both are stuck in their (love) lives. Amanda just found out that her boyfriend Ethan (Edward Burns) has been cheating on her while Iris has been suffering from an unrequited love for her colleague Jasper (Rufus Sewell) for several years. As the Christmas holidays are close, they decide that they need some time off and look for possibilities to get away. Finally, they meet on a home exchange website and spontaneously agree to switch houses.

Amanda moves into Iris’ small country cottage in Surrey, while Iris enjoys the comfort of Amanda’s extravagant mansion in Los Angeles and luxuriates in her surroundings. In the meantime, Amanda has some difficulties in her new environment. After six hours in England, she even plans to get the next flight back home. But then she meets Iris’ handsome brother Graham (Jude Law) and they spend a passionate night together. Amanda decides to stay and during her holidays she gets to know Graham better. She discovers that he is not only a charming British gentleman, but also a widower and father of two little girls. Eventually, they fall in love with each other and become a couple.

Across the Atlantic, Iris makes new acquaintances, too. She befriends Miles Dumont (Jack Black), a soundtrack composer and Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), an elderly man from the neighbourhood. It turns out that Arthur has been one of the most successful screenplay writers during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Iris and Miles help him to prepare for an award ceremony. In the course of the film, Iris and Miles get closer and - after Miles has discovered that his girlfriend Maggie has been cheating on him – become a couple.

The last scene shows the two new couples and Graham’s children happily celebrating New Year’s Eve together in Surrey.

3. Anglo-American Stereotypes in the Film – Characters and Setting

In general, there are two kinds of stereotype depending on the point of view: Auto-stereotypes and hetero-stereotypes. Auto-stereotypes describe “the way in which a group perceives itself”[5] while hetero-stereotypes describe “the way a certain group sees another group”[6]. As the screenplay writer, Nancy Meyers, is American, I consider the stereotypes about the British as hetero-stereotypes and the stereotypes about the Americans as auto-stereotypes.

In order to analyse which Anglo-American stereotypes have been used in The Holiday, it is important to have a look at the characters and the settings. The characters reveal how the Americans and the British are seen in the film, while the settings show how the two countries are portrayed.

3.1. The American Characters

In The Holiday, there are three major American characters: Amanda Woods, Miles Dumont and Arthur Abbott. They are quite different from each other, but they all represent various stereotypical aspects of being an American.

3.1.1. Amanda Woods

Amanda Woods represents a stereotypical American in various ways. First of all, she is a self-made woman and probably also a self-made millionaire. She owns a prospering company that produces trailers for Hollywood films and definitely loves her job. Working comes first in Amanda’s life. Her boyfriend Ethan thinks that she works too much as she “cut 75 trailers this year, put a cutting room in the house and [...] sleep[s] with [her] BlackBerry”[7]. Amanda herself is convinced that one has to stay professional no matter what is happening in one’s personal life[8], even if this means that you have no time for sex.[9]

In her job, she is paid “the big bucks”[10] and thus can afford some luxury in her life, which points to the stereotype of the materialistic American. According to the ‘Xenophobe’s Guide to the Americans’ “Americans think of everything in terms of money because money can be quantified. In the game of life, money is the most effective way to keep score”[11].

The dark side of Amanda’s job is the severe stress she suffers from. She is under permanent pressure and seems to be hyperactive. There is also a hint that Amanda even suffers from workaholism: In important situations, she hears a voice that comments her life like a trailer narrator.[12] Due to all this and her emotional situation, she thinks that she might “need some peace and quiet or whatever it is people go away for”[13]. However, instead of relaxing and enjoying the tranquillity of her new English surroundings, she becomes frustrated and massively bored as soon as she cannot busy herself[14]. This permanent need to be occupied or entertained is another American stereotype.

The fear of not being busy the whole time might stand for the fear of thinking about one’s life and dealing with personal problems. Amanda probably is a workaholic because she wants to divert herself from her insecurity in matters of personal relationships and emotions. She is troubled by intimacy and, according to Ethan, she “screw[ed] up every relationship [she’s] ever been in”[15], which seems to be a stereotypical behaviour pattern for an American as they have are afraid of permanent commitments[16]. She cannot show her true feelings and tends to push people away when they get too close. When she is on her first date with Graham, she cannot relax and simply be herself, but instead interrogates him as if he was applying for a job[17]. Since her parents got divorced when Amanda was fifteen years old, she has never been able to cry again.[18] Sometimes she makes attempts, but she never succeeds[19]. Instead of showing real emotions in stressful situations, she suffers from oesophageal spasms[20]. Amanda’s strategy of hiding her true emotions and her insecurity is stereotypically American, too, as “being depressed is unattractive and thus not suitable for public display”[21].

Another area Amanda is not comfortable with is her sexuality. She appears to be very straightforward and open about it when she offers Graham a one-night-stand[22]. However, immediately after he consents, she tells him that she is “not very good at this”[23]. So, although Amanda is very open about sex she is not relaxed and very insecure. A problem, many Americans seem to suffer from as whatever kind of sex they’re having, Americans know that it could be better. Books about improving one’s sex life top the sales charts, and women’s magazines in particular feature at least one ‘How to Have Better Sex’ article every month. Nowadays, it’s OK to be open about sex. But being open isn’t the same thing as being relaxed.[24]

Another feature Amanda is constantly occupied with is her outer appearance. She is always dressed very elegantly. Being tall, slim and blond, she is very attractive and embodies the perfect American woman: Barbie[25]. Amanda’s attitude towards food, however, shows which sacrifices American women have to make in order to get the perfect shape. They cannot eat carbohydrates without wanting to kill themselves[26] and they have to “approach every meal mindful that the food will either be bad for them or, worse, make them fat”[27].

All in all, Amanda Woods represents different facets of the stereotypical American: She embodies the materialistic yuppie culture and the beauty craze.

But Amanda changes during her holiday in England. Although she is bored at first and would rather go home as soon as possible, she stays and starts to become a more relaxed person. In Graham, she finds a person who is really interested in her and allows her to open up and be herself again. The absence of diversion in her vacation spot makes her re-evaluate her life and she manages to have real emotions again, symbolised by her crying in the end. The trailer narrator’s voice comments this development as follows: “Amanda Woods, welcome back”[28].

[...]


[1] Carina Chocano,”The Holiday”. Los Angeles Times (12/8/2006) found at http://www.calendarlive.com/printedition/calendar/cl-et-holiday8dec08,0,2932207.story.

[2] Found at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457939/awards.

[3] Found at http://www.populuslimited.com/the-times-political-attitudes-040606.html.

[4] Julian Glover, Ewen MacAskill, “Stand up to US, voters tell Blair” . The Guardian (7/25/2006) found at http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2006/jul/25/uk.topstories3.

[5] Stephan-Alexander Ditze, America and the Americans in Postwar British Fiction: An Imagological Study of Selected Novels, ( Heidelberg: 2006) 33.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Liebe braucht keine Ferien, written by Meyers, Nancy. Directed by Meyers, Nancy. Produced by Block, Bruce A.; Farwell, Suzanne; Meyers, Nancy. 2006. DVD. Waverly Films Production. 2006. DVD. 0:12:03.

[8] Cf. Ibid. 0:15:41.

[9] Cf. Ibid. 0:15:41.

[10] Ibid. 0:16:10.

[11] Stephanie Faul, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Americans (London: Oval Books, 2009) 14.

[12] Cf. Liebe braucht keine Ferien, DVD.0: 25:23.

[13] Ibid . 0:16:24.

[14] Cf. Liebe braucht keine Ferien, DVD 0: 30:05 and 0:32:26.

[15] Cf. Ibid. 0:12:44.

[16] Cf. “Indeed, permanent commitments are what Americans fear the most” in Faul, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Americans, 1.

[17] Cf. Ibid 1:03:23.

[18] Cf. Ibid. 1:05:27.

[19] Cf. Ibid. 0:18:29.

[20] Cf. Ibid. 0:13:37.

[21] Faul, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Americans, 10.

[22] Cf. Liebe braucht keine Ferien, DVD. 0:44:20. “I’m thinking we should have sex. If you want”.

[23] Liebe braucht keine Ferien, DVD. 0:45:05.

[24] Faul, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Americans, 28.

[25] Cf. Liebe braucht keine Ferien, DVD. 1:16:09. “You look like my Barbie”

[26] Ibid. 0:16:47.

[27] Faul, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Americans, 55.

[28] Liebe braucht keine Ferien, DVD 2:02:34.

Details

Pages
17
Year
2009
ISBN (eBook)
9783656847021
ISBN (Book)
9783656847038
File size
409 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v284413
Institution / College
University of Heidelberg
Grade
1,7
Tags
Anglo-American Stereotypes Nancy Meyer The Holiday RomCom

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Title: Special Relationships. Anglo-American Stereotypes in Nancy Meyer's Film "The Holiday"