Home for the Holidays (1995) BUY IT

The Principals: Holly Hunter. Robert Downey Jr. Charles Durnig. Anne Bancroft. Cynthia Stevenson. Steve Guttenberg. Dylan McDermott. Geraldine Chaplin. Clare Danes. David Strathairn. Austin Pendleton. Jodie Foster (who

The Premise: A woman in the middle of a midlife crisis spends Thanksgiving with her nightmare of a family.

Surprisingly, not a scene from In Dreams.

This is a film people don’t seem to like. It’s gotten no respect and I think that partially has to do with the fact Jodie Foster directed it. There’s a certain expectation from the Oscar darling, but the idea of a populist and somewhat mainstream movie coming from her just seems to repel folks. It’s a shame too, because it’s become a yearly staple in my house and is actually my wife’s (though she is as far from a cinephile as a person can be) favorite movie.

And it’s a Thanksgiving film, which puts it in pretty exclusive company.

Hunter plays a woman who left her hometown to become something big in the art world, but got pregnant and underachieved professionally. At the film’s outset she loses her job, leaves her young daughter (Clare Danes in an early role) alone with her boyfriend for the holidays. She feels old. She feels over. And she feels she’s going into the fire with her eccentric and crazy family.

And crazy they are, but this is film isn’t about mining wackos for laughs. It’s more about learning to love what you have. Acceptance. And it’s somewhat effective at pulling that off but along there way there is some fun to be had. Robert Downey Jr. is a manic tsunami of energy as Hunter’s gay brother. Sometimes it’s too much but since this was a brighter spot during a darker period in his career, it’s a significant role. Anne Bancroft (RIP) and Charles Durning are excellent as the parents, and there is some really touching intimacy in the earlier scenes. Bancroft, in a different world, would have been nominated for this and after her sudden passing in 2005 this film is even more touching. A very special woman and seeing just how good she was even in her seventies just illustrates as much.

Cynthia Stevenson and Steve Guttenberg are suitably annoying as the stuck-up sister and her husband, Geraldine Chaplin is perfectly bonkers, and Dylan McDermott is unfairly handsome. It’s hard to watch the film without seeing how obviously Foster was using this guy as a male riff on the impossibly lovable spark typically reserved for a young actress in films like this.

For some reason this very flawed and uneven movie is one I embrace. It’s a safe mainstream family drama. It doesn’t insult the intelligence and has a great cast but also focuses on themes and situations I personally find enough of in real life to witness onscreen. But in tune with the film’s central theme, I love it for what it is and look forward to its yearly arrival on the television in my house.

Is It Good:
Yep. And if you every wanted to see how Jodie Foster would execute a fart joke, this is the film for you.

Is It Worth A Look: I’m not sure. I like it, but it’s not remarkable enough to compete with an indie and not full-bodied enough to be a mainstream slam dunk. That may be why I dig it, but I’m not foolish enough to think it’s something contagious.

Code Reds in WASPy households is considerably different from the Marines..

Random Anecdotes:  Downey admitted to doing heroin during this shoot, which explains a lot. Shawn Hatosy completists, he appears here as a diner employee! If you don’t hate Steve Guttenberg, this is a perfect vehicle to get you there. Jodie Foster’s commentary on the DVD is terrific. The last film on Anne Bancroft’s resume is fucking Delgo.

White meat.
Dark meat.
All will be carved.