If you, like me, pine for the wholesome magic of flirting your way around a film-postered, carpeted video store, showing off your pompously studious knowledge of movies with unsolicited mini reviews amid the impossible task of handpicking just one cinematic endeavour for a perfect night in, then you fell hard for Jack Black in The Holiday.
With just one Blockbuster left in the world, nostalgia for physical video stores isn’t new. In fact, Vanessa Ramos’ Netflix series about the very last Blockbuster store is now ironically streaming. People have built entire personal video stores in their basements. The closest I’ve been to a video store recently is Netflix’s London pop-up for Fear Street, and I would have lived in those blood-soaked aisles for days. But one movie from 2006 tapped into this era with winsome revelry. And we’ll never let go.
The whole of this house-swap comedy is fun enough to watch throughout the year. But every time I watch one scene in Nancy Meyers’ charming yuletide rom-com, this nostalgia for long-dead video store flirting bubbles up anew, with all the subtlety of Jack Black “scraaaaahdle-daaaah”ing through various film scores.
How do I flirt in person again?
Let’s set the scene (again). It’s Christmas Eve, and Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet) is sitting in her house-swapped accommodation in Los Angeles, with plans to head to the video store to rent more gumption-fuelled movies — recommended by her Hollywood legend-next-door, Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach).
New friend Miles (Jack Black) offers his company and joins her with two frappuccinos of differing whipped cream dollops at the store — well, hello big dollop. As a film composer, Miles can’t help himself, moving into a high-energy sequence of DVD recommendations that come with Black’s own Be Kind Rewind meets School of Rock freestyle rendition of each theme song. “l’m gonna test you on this later,” he teases, while Winslet stands giggling.
“Clang, clang, clang, clang, clang, clang, dun-dun-dun-dun-dun, cling, cling, cling, cling, cling shakackakakaka…” rolls Black’s fiercely unblinking, shoulder-rolling version of composer Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire theme, casually throwing in a smug statement about taking “electronic scores to a new level.”
Credit: Screenshot: Prime Video
Sauntering down the aisle, Miles moves on to Driving Miss Daisy — with Black’s endlessly quotable and iconic rendition of Hans Zimmer’s theme.
“Do you remember how great it was? Roodle-deedun-doo, scroodle-deedun-doo, roodle-deedun-doo da dwehh-dehn-dehn-dehn. SASSY.”
With Iris’ encouragement to keep going with his self-described “bad game”, Miles leans into it with Max Steiner’s “Tara’s Theme” from Gone with the Wind. “Sometimes l get self-conscious about my — RAH-DAAAAAH DA DAAAAAH! AND SCRAHDLE DAAAAAH! AAARE YOUUUU EMBAAAARRASSED — by this game I’ve started to play?”
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Then, we’re onto John William’s “totally brill” score for Jaws, a ridiculously earnest recommendation of Ennio Morricone’s The Mission score, and a cheeky cameo from Dustin Hoffman during Miles’ tribute to The Graduate.
According to Bustle’s deep dive, Meyers said that most of the scene was improvised by Black, beyond the basic parameters of the scene. Black’s exceptional talent at creating arena-level operatic music comedy from mundanity is on full display, right in the middle of a rom-com. And it lands, making Miles’ uninhibited conviction in his film score nerdery exceptionally appealing, and making Black a totally brill modern romantic lead.
Credit: Screenshot: Prime Video.
Sure, a lot of people might find these public outbursts highly awkward, performative, and self-indulgent. But I treasure this vintage type of nerdy flirting.
You cannot do this type of video store seduction while scrolling through Netflix — especially with the kind of unrelenting eye contact and eyebrow undulating Black brings to the scene. Imagine moving through a streaming platform like this. The best option I can come up with is ranting through a record store or a bookstore, and both of those don’t really allow for this level of unbridled, cacophonous, publicly embarrassing shenanigans. Record stores might come close, as singing bits and pieces of the albums you love could have an Empire Records-level flirtation to them. But book stores? You’d be shushed in an instant quoting anything from those pages aloud. Video stores were arenas of “you’ve gotta see this” social engagement, aisles and aisles of physical copies you could pick up and thrust at your crush, insisting they have to watch Reality Bites or Cruel Intentions for the soundtrack, man.
When the whole sequence comes crashing down with the revelation of Miles’ girlfriend Maggie’s infidelity, the emotional weight of it all is intensified by the giddy, flirty glee he and Iris relished in moments before. The scene is the moment Black wins over the audience in a way that the — arguably cheesier — lunchtime topiary dalliance between Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and Graham (Jude Law) doesn’t do it for me.
For Iris, this moment is profound. Instead of Rufus Sewell’s toxic flirty messages making Iris feel like “the walking wounded…the victims of the one-sided affair,” Iris has a fun little flirt around a video store in her new empowered life. Most importantly, with Miles’ impromptu performance, we get to see the dumb, wholesome frivolity Iris deserves, the joy of being present with someone who actually cares about her having a fun time on Christmas Eve.
At the end of the day, The Holiday‘s video store scene is reminiscent of a wholesome means of ridiculous nerdy flirtation that has never quite been replicated since video stores perished. Plus, it’s delightfully corny, and I agree with Iris: “I’m looking for corny in my life.”
The Holiday is now streaming on DirecTV and TBS in the U.S. and on Prime Video, ITVX and BritBox in the UK.