We don’t talk about Jack Black enough. It’s something I blame most of our societal problems on — this collective silence when it comes to giving one of the greatest comedy actors of our generation his due. We don’t talk about his eclectic filmography, his wholesome bro-next-door persona, or the fact that, despite archaic Hollywood standards trying to cage his sex appeal, he is, in fact, extremely bangable.
But we really don’t talk about his rom-com leading man potential, something that’s on full display in the timeless festive classic, The Holiday.
The Nancy Meyers-directed, Christmas-themed romantic dramedy currently streaming on Netflix is an oft-overlooked holiday treat. It hit theaters in the early 2000s when Black was battling for supremacy amongst a lineup of comedic heavyweights at the box office — blockbuster arch-nemeses like Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Zach Galifinakis — and the rest of the stacked cast, names like Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, and Kate Winslet, were in the prime of their careers. Its plot synopsis is of the generic Hallmark variety: two women with troubled love lives named Iris (Winslet) and Amanda (Diaz) decide to swap houses for a hastily planned Christmas vacation. Diaz heads to a tiny English hamlet where she quickly finds love with Law’s character, a single father and book publisher who manages to ooze sex appeal even when a napkin is covering his face. Theirs is the more conventional, predictable pairing.
Winslet’s West Coast vacation takes her down an infinitely more interesting route to find love, one that involves aging Hollywood icons and annoyingly-persistent ex-boyfriends and, eventually, Jack Black. It’s that final ingredient in the Matzo Ball soup — this film also recognizes Hanukkah which feels revolutionary compared to any other winter-set rom-com you’ll see — that elevates the whole film to something unique, perhaps even unforgettable.
You see, Black has spent decades honing his on-screen charisma. He’s a ball of chaotic energy, all disheveled hair, and curved eyebrows, and sardonic smiles. His stocky, short frame often regulates him to best friend roles despite his inherently magnetic presence on screen. His confidence and self-assuredness can be played for laughs — like in the quirky wrestling comedy Nacho Libre and in Stiller’s action-comedy Tropic Thunder — or it can be used for more dramatic effect — like in Peter Jackson’s divisive King Kong remake. In either case, Black always imbues his characters with a sense of earnestness, and an almost boyish desire to do good, or at least, do better. Even when he’s starring in dark comedies about morticians who murder aging widows, he’s likable, relatable, tangibly real in a way so many leading men with their carb-deficient physiques and polished press junket personalities just aren’t.
And when he’s really in his element, combining his love of music with his theater troupe background like he did for the seminal musical comedy School of Rock, he’s in a league of his own. Charming as hell, invested in his storytelling, easily lifting the performances of a cast comprised of child actors — Black is capable of making audiences forget that the premise of this film is about a struggling musician who impersonates his best friend to acquire a teaching position before turning his classroom into a month-long rehearsal space for a local band competition. He’s that good.
Which brings us back to The Holiday, a film that could’ve saddled Kate Winslet with another boring male hunk but instead gave her Black who improvises and interacts with the material in a way that throws the normal rhythm of a movie like this delightfully off balance. He’s apologizing for boob grazes at sushi spots, he’s delivering glorious music lessons within the hallowed walls of a Blockbuster (R.I.P), he’s hosting movie nights, attending Hanukkah parties, and helping Winslet’s character find herself. He’s a friend before he’s a romantic interest, which feels wildly refreshing. And, he gets perhaps the most swoon-worthy scene of the entire film when he not only crafts a song to represent the object of his growing affections but then tells Winslet’s Iris he “used only the good notes.”
I say again, how is this man not on the cover of every romance paperback?! Where is his Tom Hanks era?
The Holiday is a lovely film, but it’s made so much better by Black — as is every movie he’s in. If we’re being honest, life has been made better by Jack Black, especially during a pandemic when some A-listers offered cringe sing-a-longs and hollow tweets of encouragement. Black spent the past year hosting a Youtube channel with his kids, donning ridiculous costumes to convince people to get vaccinated, and playing Wesley in a virtual table read of The Princess Bride. He’s the only reason anyone’s going to go watch that live-action Mario monstrosity. He’s been putting in the work to be Hollywood’s next leading rom-com hero. He’s ready. The world is ready.