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‘Home for the Holidays’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 03, 1995


Jodie Foster
Holly Hunter;
Robert Downey Jr.;
Anne Bancroft;
Steve Guttenberg;
Claire Danes;
Dylan McDermott;
Geraldine Chaplin;
Cynthia Stevenson;
Charles Durning
thematic material and language

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An amiable comedy directed by Jodie Foster, "Home for the Holidays" explores that uniquely American celebration of drumsticks and dysfunctionalism known as Thanksgiving dinner. The movie faithfully records the rivalries among the various members of a fractious Baltimore family, but it never really attempts to resolve any of the internecine conflicts. In that sense, it's less ambitious than many a TV series.

Holly Hunter, in her spunky "Broadcast News" mode, plays Claudia Larson, a dutiful daughter even more reluctant than usual to make the annual pilgrimage from Chicago to Baltimore. Newly unemployed and fighting a cold, the single mother starts to envy the turkeys of America once her daughter (Claire Danes) announces that she plans to stay behind and lose her virginity.

When Claudia finally boards her plane, she realizes she's dropped her expensive coat somewhere in the terminal. And naturally, her seat mate is a full-figured gal with a bucket of fried chicken and a need to unburden herself. A similar scene brought Steve Martin and John Candy together in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," a Thanksgiving comedy that actually went somewhere. But "Home for the Holidays" scarcely gets beyond the Larsons' stoop.

The Larsons are an eccentric brood headed by mellow nonentity Henry (Charles Durning) and twitchy roost-ruler Adele (Anne Bancroft). Aside from Claudia, their offspring include the wacky homosexual, Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.), and the resentful prig, Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson). Joining them for dinner are Tommy's hunky co-worker (Dylan McDermott), his addlepated Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin) and Joanne's conservative husband (Steve Guttenberg).

Before they've even finished carving the bird, a nasty argument breaks out; the homophobic Joanne was egged on by Tommy, the family tease. Their ineffectual parents make little attempt to intervene, and Joanne, who winds up with the turkey in her lap, storms off in a huff. Tommy's chum regards the scene with amused indifference, thereby endearing himself to Claudia. Meanwhile, Aunt Glady tells embarrassing anecdotes over the persistent grumbling of her bowels.

With many of the conversations going on simultaneously, it's difficult—sometimes even impossible—to know who is saying what and to whom. And the problem gets worse when that exuberant rattletrap Tommy is on the scene. 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. Bancroft's performance, however, is a mother lode of nudging, nurturing and unequivocal love.

"Home for the Holidays," Foster's second outing behind the camera, is more effortlessly directed than her first, the classically structured "Little Man Tate." W.D. Richter ("Buckaroo Banzai"), a writer who specializes in fantasy and sci-fi, based this film on a short story that caught his eye in the Boston Phoenix weekly. Unfortunately, it hasn't become much more than a breezy collection of fond memories.

Home for the Holidays is rated PG-13 for thematic material and language.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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