Lessons from “The Holiday” and James Cameron: Find Some Gumption

I could watch “The Holiday” over and over, and it’s not just to see charming Jude Law in action. Nancy Meyers’s adorable flick became a rom-com favorite of mine because I especially love the relationship between Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), a retired Hollywood screenwriter, and Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet), a British journalist on holiday in L.A. How sweet and special is this relationship? And what lessons can we learn from it?

I’m allowing this movie relationship to influence a short story I’m currently writing (the first part of it I posted a few weeks ago) that involves a nurturing relationship between a younger woman and an older woman. My two characters make a connection because they have both lost their immediate families. I hope to complete this story and illustrate how we can learn from others and that something beautiful can grow from a new relationship of shared affections and mutual respect—no matter what the age of the parties involved—similar to what Arthur and Iris share.

There are a lot of lessons in “The Holiday.” Two of them go hand-in-hand: (1) “be the leading lady of your own life” and (2) start by having some “gumption.” We need to speak up for ourselves when things don’t go how we want them to go; we need to tell someone when they’re hurting us; we need to fight for what we believe in and deserve.

For example, in the clip I’ve included, the dialogue goes as follows:

Arthur: Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason, you’re behaving like you’re the best friend.

Iris: You’re so right. You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for God’s sake…

If you’re not the leading lady of your own life, who will be? It takes, as Arthur says in another scene in the film, “gumption” to do it. Instead of the “Got Milk?” advertising campaign, I’m proposing the “Got Gumption?” campaign. We all need a little gumption and we need to believe in ourselves.

My feature writing class just read Dana Goodyear’s piece from 2009 that was featured in The New Yorker; she earned a finalist prize for profile writing in 2010 for it by the American Society of Magazine Editors. The piece is entitled “Man of Extremes: The Return of James Cameron.” Innovator, dreamer, visionary, writer, and movie-maker of films such as “Titanic,” “Avatar,” and “The Terminator,” Cameron has a whole lot of gumption. Loads of it. He wouldn’t be the success he is today without it.

For viewers of “The Holiday” and fans of the character of Iris, she thrills us towards the end of the film when she triumphantly levels her on-again, off-again scumbag boyfriend. Again, the dialogue goes as follows:

Iris: It’s over! This twisted, toxic thing between us — it’s finally finished! I’m miraculously done being in love with you! I’ve got a life to start living and you’re not going to be in it! Now, I’ve got somewhere to be and you have to get the hell out!”

Jasper (the ex): What exactly has got into you?

Iris: I don’t know, but I think what I’ve got is something slightly resembling gumption!

Arthur Abbott helped Iris find her gumption. James Cameron showed the naysayers and critics of  “Titanic” how a big-budget film CAN make it in Hollywood. Can you think of others with a lot of gumption?

If you haven’t found your own brand of gumption yet and haven’t become the leading lady (or man) of your own life, you’d better get to it.

I know you’ve got it in there somewhere.


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