Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) is having the worst Thanksgiving ever. She has just been fired from her job, made out with her 60-year-old boss and found out that her daughter Kit (Claire Danes) is going to have sex for the first time. To add insult to injury, Claudia is going to spend Thanksgiving with her parents. Her mother (Anne Bancroft) reads Dear Abby and constantly nags her daughter (“Claudia, I can see your roots.”) while her father (Charles Durning) has selective deafness and weaves in and out of lanes of traffic. The antagonists are represented by Claudia’s sister Jo Ann (Cynthia Stevenson), her boring husband (Steve Guttenberg) and their annoying kids. They provide the friction and conflict, exposing Jo Ann and Claudia’s deep-rooted sibling rivalry issues.
The film really comes to life when Robert Downey Jr. as Claudia’s gay brother Tommy arrives with his business partner, Leo “Go” Fish (Dylan McDermott) in tow.
Geraldine Chaplin, as the family’s eccentric Aunt Glady, all but steals every scene she’s in with her surreal non-sequiters (“Wanna see a really big boil?”) and matches
for memorable comedic moments in the movie. For example, there is a scene where Glady tells a story at dinner that stops things cold as she speaks wistfully about how, one Christmas Eve, Claudia’s father kissed her and for one moment she felt special like how she imagined her sister felt. It’s a scene that starts off funny and then becomes poignant thanks to Chaplin’s heartfelt performance. Foster remembers that she “came up with wonderful choices in Holidays. She was the most eccentric character of the bunch, so I allowed her to push a little bit more some of those strange behaviors. But I didn't want to push the other actors into wacky, campy idiosyncratic levels. These are real people; they're complicated, but they are very real.” David Strathairn even pops up for a memorable cameo as Russell “Sad Sack” Terziak, a guy with the worst hard luck story, ever. It’s a rare comedic turn as the veteran character actor is cast against type. He is able to put a slightly tragic and uncomfortable spin on his scene. Downey
Castle Rock was originally going to finance the film but canceled and Foster’s own production company, Egg Productions, acquired W.D. Richter’s screenplay. She worked with him on it so that the film ultimately reflects her point-of-view and her own life experience. She spent two weeks rehearsing with her cast before principal photography began in February 1995. Foster used this time to get input from the actors about dialogue – if a scene or speech did not ring true, she wanted to be told. According to Richter, “We all drive each other nuts at holidays like Thanksgiving. I think there is great tragedy and great humor in that. I wanted some sense of a family pulling together in spite of all the problems.”
Foster sets up an idealistic façade but balances it with a realistic depiction of the family dynamic. Richter’s script nails the interplay between retired parents and how they constantly nag each other but really do love one another. And there are the little details that ring true, like how Claudia’s mother makes lists of things to get or do. Sure enough, by dinner time there’s a big blow out argument as old grudges come to the surface. The friction between Tommy and Jo Ann echoes those old arguments that we’ve all had with siblings when one was eight years old and then comes bubbling to the surface whenever you get together with them, no matter how much time has passed. Regardless of all the bad mojo – Tommy having been secretly married to his boyfriend (Chad Lowe), Claudia guilty over being fired and Jo Ann’s bitter resentment with her two free-spirited siblings – coming together for dinner will, they hope, resolve some of these issues. It is a moment where the film gets serious as real issues and true feelings are addressed but it is consistent with what came before and doesn’t take you out of the film. Like real life, some issues are resolved and some aren’t. According to Foster, “At no point did I want the comedy so raucous and exaggerated that you could not believe in it. I wanted people to be able and look at it and say, ‘This is life.’”
The film received mixed reviews but most of the major newspaper critics liked it. In his three and half star review, Roger Ebert praised Foster's ability to direct "the film with a sure eye for the revealing little natural moment," and
's performance that "brings out all the complexities of a character who has used a quick wit to keep the world's hurts at arm's length." Janet Maslin, in her review for The New York Times, praised Holly Hunter's performance: "Displaying a dizziness more mannered than the cool, crisp intelligence she shows in Copycat, Ms. Hunter still holds together Home for the Holidays with a sympathetic performance.” However, in her review for the Washington Post, Rita Kempley criticized some of the performances: " Downey brings a lot of energy to the role, but his antics can be both tedious and distracting. Hunter has a lovely scene with her disgruntled sister, but there's no time for that relationship to develop, what with a romantic interest yet to explore.” USA Today gave Home for the Holidays three out of four stars and wrote, “Home has the usual hellish ritual. They come, they eat, they argue, they leave. It’s the stuffing in-between that makes it special.” Downey
Allen, Tom. "Becoming Jodie Foster." Moviemaker. December 2, 1995.
Bibby, Patricia. "Jodie Foster Looks Home to Heal." Associated Press. November 12, 1995.
Hunter, Stephen. "Foster Feels at Home Adding Fun, Meaning to Holidays Clan." Baltimore Sun. November 19, 1995.
Kirkland, Bruce. "Downey to Earth." Toronto Sun. November 6, 1995.
Portman, Jamie. "Home for the Holidays No Ordinary Family Film." Montreal Gazette. October 31, 1995.
Young, Paul F. "Foster Moves Home to Par." Variety. November 19, 1995.
Here's an excerpt from the original short story that the film is based on.
Great write-up. I really enjoyed this film. It was awesome to see a movie set at Thanksgiving and not at Christmas. This movie had it all. It had drama, comedy, etc. The entire cast was amazing it. I did really enjoy Robert Downey Jr. I'm a big fan of his anyway. Even if a movie sucks (which this did not), he's usually still good in it. Jodie Forster did a fantastic job with this film. Thanks for posting it. Makes me wanna watch it again.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Keith! Yeah, I love this film, esp. for Robert Downey who just steals every scene he's in. That's not to say the rest of the cast isn't wonderful, 'cos they are. It really is a fantastic ensemble piece. As you point out, it has it all: comedy, drama, and so on. Plus, I certainly see a lot of my own family in some of the characters.ReplyDelete
I adore this film...absolutely adore it. It actually has a lot of special meaning to me for reasons I won't go into here, and I think it is tragic Jodie hasn't directed again.ReplyDelete
The moment at the end where she shows the special moments in the characters lives not captured on camera is one of the most moving statements on the power of cinema I have ever seen.
Great write up...I am sure you have listened to Jodie's commentary on the disc but just in case don't miss it. She comes across as super intelligent and super passionate.
God, I love this film...Viva Jodie Foster!
"...It actually has a lot of special meaning to me for reasons I won't go into here, and I think it is tragic Jodie hasn't directed again..."
I agree! I was so bummed that she hasn't been able to get FLORA PLUM off the ground. I do agree with you about the HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS having special, personal meaning. That's how I feel about it too. It really strikes a chord with me which is probably why I keep coming back to it year after year.
"The moment at the end where she shows the special moments in the characters lives not captured on camera is one of the most moving statements on the power of cinema I have ever seen."
I love that scene too. You're right, it is very moving and comes at just the right moment in the film.
Thank you for the enthusiastic response! I have listened to Foster's commentary on the DVD and you're right about it. Altho, at times, she came across as a tad bitter about her own family. She doesn't go into any details (of course) but one gets the impression that there is some definite tension there. Weird.
I really like that movie as well. Excellent read! Now my holiday has officially began.ReplyDelete
Cinema Du Meep:ReplyDelete
Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it and are a fan of this film. It's a keeper.
Well sir, my wife is particularly a big fan of this one, and I've had her over here to read your typically thorough and enthusiastic assesment. I agree with what you say about Downey's first appearance fueling the film, and applaud you for offering this up in such a timely fashion.ReplyDelete
Hope you had a nice break up there in the northlands, my friend!
Thank you for the kind words and well wishes! Downey is so good in this film. Can't praise his performanc enough.
Really late to this one [never too late right?]. I've not seen the film, but it sounds like it's worth a viewing especially considering the fact I always considered PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES as THE Thanksgiving movie. Another film which holds up to repeat viewing.
Speaking of which I hope you had a nice one.
The Sci-Fi Fanatic:ReplyDelete
Hey, better late than never!
I do like PLANES, TRAINS as well but, for me, HOME just edges it out thanks to Robert Downey's inspired performance. PIECES OF APRIL is another decent Thanksgiving film also.