This Queer film review is part of my “Queer Holiday Film Reviews for 2020” post.
Another ensemble film? Don’t worry! Unlike last week’s disastrous review, “Home For The Holidays” is actually a brilliant and incredible film to watch. Set around Thanksgiving dinner instead of Christmas, Jodie Foster‘s film perfectly captures the craziness of family and how everyone’s different stories mingle & clash, often to hysterical results. But it’s more a drama with a touch of black comedy, more heartfelt and endearing rather than laughs. Let’s break it down further.
Synopsis of “Home For The Holidays”
Claudia (Holly Hunter) is an art restorer at the museum, until she’s called into her boss’ office and fired right before she flies home for Thanksgiving. She’s dreading going home, especially because her daughter, Kitt (Claire Danes), is not coming along – she’s spending the holiday with her boyfriend. Right as Kitt drops her mother off at the airport, she also tells her mom that she’s going to lose her virginity to her boyfriend that weekend. And as if things weren’t bad enough, Claudia has a cold! In a daze, she walks through the airport, dropping her coat in the chaos. While in the air, and despite being bothered by the woman sitting next to her, Claudia calls her brother, Tommy, but he doesn’t pick up. So ends up leaving a quite embarrassing voicemail about how she was just fired, made out with her boss, worried that Kitt is going to sex too early, and lamenting that he won’t be there this year to help her cope with the family. Upon landing, we get to see exactly why she was worried – her parents are waiting at the gate for her, and right away her mother, Adele (Anne Bancroft), chides her for forgetting her winter coat! The nagging continues during the stagnant traffic on the drive home, as her parents banter back and forth. Finally, they arrive home – but her mother’s barrage continues. While her dad, Henry (Charles Durning), plays with his organ (an actual organ you dirty minded folks!) her mom goes on and on including lamenting that Claudia isn’t painting anymore. But when Claudia mentions she might change jobs – her mother immediately clues in on “They fired you, didn’t they!” But Claudia gets a break when Henry finally pulls his wife away to dance with her in the living room.
Late in the night, Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.) arrives! (with a man, Leo (Dylan McDermott) in tow…) But being the practical jokester he is, they sneak inside with night vision goggles and into Claudia’s room. Pulling back the covers, he snaps an embarrassing polaroid of her – but instead of being upset, Claudia is thrilled that Tommy is here! They wake up the whole house though, and their mother starts coffee for the day. While her parents ask who the other guy Tommy brought is, Claudia is worried and asking where Tommy’s boyfriend Jack is at – but they all deflect her questions. When they finally get a moment alone, she asks Tommy if he listened to his messages – he tells her he hasn’t yet, but again defers to how cute and perfect Leo is. Skipping ahead, Tommy, Leo, and Claudia head off to grab some final groceries – and pick up Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin). After running into their high school homecoming queen who makes Claudia feel even worse, Leo interjects and saves the day. They finally pick up Glady, who insists on giving Claudia a lamp But once packed into Tommy’s small car (lamp included), she farts loudly… “How fast can you go, Tommy?” “Like the wind!” But of course, eccentric Glady keeps giving fun when they arrive – she flashes her crotch to Tommy as he helps her out of the car! But Claudia’s mother has a surprise for her, the “furnace” was broken so the repair man came by… in an obvious attempt to push him towards Claudia. Leo and Tommy watch the pathetic sob story before saving Claudia.
Last to arrive, their sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), her husband, Walter (Steve Guttenberg), and the kids wait in the car, upset because they were told Tommy wouldn’t be there – yet his car is parked outside. Tommy jumps on their car, angering them further. As they unload their food, Joanne presumes Leo is there with Claudia. She corrects her and says he’s with Tommy, and worried something happened with Jack. Joanne snottily replies, “Yeah, and everyone in town knows it” before walking inside. Setting the table is nearly disastrous when Henry tries to help but almost drops one of the turkeys. But finally they sit down and Glady sing’s a grace, forgetting the words halfway through. Henry finishes grace, noting that everything changes too fast, and how “pain in the ass traditions like Thanksgiving, are starting to stop” – but Adele interrupts him to start eating. While Walter, Joanne’s husband, and Henry start carving the turkeys, the real drama starts to unfold as Glady, already drunk on wine, admits to loving Henry – something even Adele, her sister, did not know. Walter interjects, talking politics and money with Leo, while Tommy and Joanne snap at each other.
Tommy took over carving the turkey, but before long it goes flying – right into Joanne’s lap! She really snaps, yelling “cocksucker” at Tommy, who banters back with “drama queen”. But Joanne has had it. She tells Tommy that HE’s the freak, how he and Jack went and got married, and everyone knows the disgusting thing they did; how Tommy only cares about himself and now how his actions affect the rest of the family. Except no one else in the family knew Tommy got married… they’re all shocked. Especially Claudia who finally realises that Leo is not with Tommy, and that Tommy brought him for her. As Claudia laughs at the situation, Walter snaps back at how she has such a perfect life. But Claudia defers to Tommy to tell them about her “perfect life” – and he spills everything; he listened to the voicemail! But Claudia chimes in with Tommy’s candid recounting, laughing about it all. Their mother finally escapes into the kitchen, where she starts in on Tommy about the wedding. He stops her and tells her, “You’re a pain in the ass, have bad hair… but I like you a lot.” His mother counters back, “Neither can change though.” leaving the room.
The aftermath is almost as painful for all. Claudia’s daughter finally calls, though quickly tells her mother that she didn’t have sex with her boyfriend because he’s being annoying. Kitt tells her mother, “Just float”, like the angel fish. Meanwhile, the boys end up fighting while trying to play a game of football in the front yard. Henry breaks it up by spraying them with a hose, but Joanne bursts out of the house with kids in tow – they’re leaving! Back inside, the phone rings and Henry answers – it’s Jack, calling for Tommy. However before passing the phone over, Henry tells Jack congrats – though he could’ve done better! But it’s getting late, and Glady needs to be taken home. Tommy coerces it so that Claudia and Leo take her home – and Joanne’s leftovers which she forgot when storming out earlier. After finally dropping off Glady, she and Leo have a conversation about the two of them now that they’re alone. By the time they arrive at Joanne’s they’re kissing while ringing the doorbell. Oops! Claudia tries to apologise to her sister, however, Joanne won’t accept it. She goes so far as to note that if they were strangers meeting on the street, Joanne would just walk away. Claudia finally tells her “We don’t have to like each other, we’re family”, before walking out.
Back at home, Claudia and Leo dig into the leftovers which leads to them making out on the sofa – until Tommy coughs and interrupts them because that’s where he’s sleeping for the night! But when Claudia goes up to her room and Leo follows, she doesn’t let him in and gives excuses as to why they shouldn’t. Leo concedes and goes back downstairs. Unfortunately, Claudia is awakened the next morning by the sounds of Leo and Tommy leaving. Later, Claudia ends up in the basement having a heart to heart with her dad, recalling old memories such as when he took all three of his kids onto the tarmac at the airport to watch the planes take off; to relish those moments. It’s finally time for Claudia to fly home, but she’s quiet on the drive to the airport. “Penny for your thoughts?” her dad asks her. “I let him get away” she realises. Before she boards the plane, and despite the usual horrible holiday it was, she hugs her parent’s and tells them, “I love you guys.” On board though, who comes walking up the aisle with a lamp in hand? It’s Leo! She might’ve let him go, but he wasn’t going to let her leave. As the credits roll, we are treated to a montage of flashbacks, showing a happy moment from everyone’s past: Henry & Adele dancing at the bowling alley; Tommy & Jack’s beachside wedding; Joanne, Walter, and the kids moving into their new home; and Claudia & Kitt snorkelling around angel fish. The montage ends aboard the plane, where Claudia is asleep on Leo’s shoulder as the plane takes off into the sunset.
Some films I have no issue ripping to shreds; “Home For The Holidays” is not one of those! There’s not much to find fault with this holiday film, but unfortunately there are two reasons I had to knock down my rating down a slight notch. First of all, the film is actually rather dark – as in darkly lit! Touching back on how this film is actually not really a “happy” film but more a drama, the dim lighting works well to create an overbearing, almost claustrophobic feel. While that’s exactly how Claudia, Tommy, and even Joanna feel when they have to go back home, it’s a bit tricky as a viewer though. It’s a minor issue, for sure, but I couldn’t justify giving full mark for cinematography as a result.
The other reason why I knocked the overall rating down to a 4.0/5.0 is because it’s not really my favourite Holiday film. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good film to watch and has some beautiful moments. But it’s not really a cheery film, so when I’m trying to decide what to watch to get me in the holiday mood – it’s unfortunately not “Home For The Holidays”.
Well, if there’s very little that I didn’t like, there has to be a lot that I did – right? Of course! There are many excellent parts of “Home For The Holidays” that make it a top-notch holiday film. Between the crazy hodgepodge of characters, a dark comedic humour to the script, and some incredible actors/actresses – there’s a lot to cover. First off, the characters and the actors who brought them to life! The best way to remark about this is to recall a bit of my past. Back at uni for an art class, we actually watched this film for inspiration to create cardboard chairs for our final project – purely because each of the handful of characters are fleshed out, unique and even a bit quirky and memorable. And that’s exactly what Chris Radant & W.D. Richter bring to the table. But before we dig into a few of my favourites, a quick nod to the talented cast – from the young Claire Danes to the experienced Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning, they’re all enjoyable to watch.
Anne Bancroft brings experience and snark to Claudia’s mother, Adele. Always ready to make a remark about how how her kids can do better – in a perfectly annoying, motherly way, yet she’s still able to show how much she cares for each of them. Charles Durning balances as her husband perfectly, a bit forgetful like an aging dad can get but he has a few incredibly heartfelt speeches that just dig in deep deep to strike a chord. When he pulls her in and dances in the living room, it’s cute and wonderful. Claudia is not really a likeable character, but Holly Hunter brings her to life that toes the line between the edge of craziness we can all imagine she would be experiencing. With everything she is juggling on top of dreading returning home to deal with her family, we still get a bit of heart and even smiles from her character. There are two others who really bring out this side of her though, her brother Tommy and Leo. Robert Downey Jr. is almost perfectly annoying as Tommy, even though this was during his darker times in his career. (He’s since admitted using heroin while filming). Even though he’s the prankster of the family and always stirring up trouble, there’s something likeable and Tommy is the perfect refuge for Claudia to latch onto in order to survive the holiday. And Dylon McDermott is rather quite as the newcomer Leo, but he quickly warms up and becomes the leading man that snags Claudia’s heart by the end. Lastly, we can’t ignore Geraldine Chaplin’s portrayal of the eccentric Aunt Glady (she’s the character I designed my cardboard chair off of, btw!) or Cynthia Stevenson as the “evil” sister Joanne, who snaps and doesn’t like her siblings because she feels they left her to deal with their parents alone.
But great characters are only part of the mix, they need a great story to bounce everyone off each other – resulting in the craziness that we can all relate to at the holidays. The script is full of quirky little moments, some that will have you burst out laughing such as when Aunt Glady farts loudly in the car, or when the turkey goes flying right into Joanne’s lap! And just like the holidays usually are, when you bring everyone together, insults and words go flying as everything unravels – exactly what Claudia is dreading right from the start. Yet, we also get some real tender moments such as when our characters have to face harsh realistic truths about themselves like Claudia letting Tommy fill in the family about her “perfect” life, or during Henry’s quick quips or speeches. My favourite is between Henry and Claudia towards the end when he retells the story of how he took his kids to watch the airplanes take off on the tarmac. In a memorable memory, he drives home that it’s the little things that matter when you look back. But oddly enough, there’s another tender moment that actually comes as a surprise. When Claudia tries to apologise to her sister, Joanne simple doesn’t care. But it’s Claudia’s response that hits home with a bit of hard truth: “We don’t have to like each other, we’re family.”
And last but not least, there are some excellent directing/editing work along with other cinematographic elements that pull it all together. In perhaps an odd choice, Jodie Foster, opted to tell this story in moments with titles before each scene grouping. She did an incredible job bringing to life the craziness of the holidays – while still making it an enjoyable film to watch. Every shot is nicely framed, balancing between wider shots and closeups. Again, the scene between Claudia and her dad is memorable for how the camera slowly focuses in on Henry so we can visually watch him get lost in retelling his story. And the music score works well, weaving between the scenes with a variety of musical styles that perfectly work in that moment. In all, it’s a wonderful holiday film.
Thanksgiving, or even Christmas itself, is not always a happy time when you family is a bit crazy and not everyone gets along. “Home For The Holidays” perfectly captures all the craziness, while equally giving us heartfelt messages about love and family. With an excellent case, brilliant writing and Jodi Foster at the helm, it’s a great addition to the Holiday film oeuvre. Don’t you agree? Since many of you can’t travel or gather like usual this holiday season, “Home For The Holidays” can help you “relive” that craziness while staying safely at home. If you still haven’t seen it, go find yourselves a copy.