HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1995) *
The title "Home for the Holidays" suggests either a feelgood story, a family drama or a comedy, but guesses can be wrong. There was a made-for-TV movie with that title in 1972 which turned out to be a Christmastime thriller. Now, the current film's distributors have announced it as a comedy, but this description will do only if you stretch it.
Claudia (Holly Hunter) just lost her job as an art restorer at a museum. (You wait a long time to find out that the museum is in Chicago). With some trepidation, Claudia leaves behind her16-year old daughter (we later learn in passing that Hunter is unmarried) and flies to another state to spend Thanksgiving with her parents. (You wait a long time to find out that it is Maryland. If your eyes are peeled, you might catch the sign "Maryland Lottery").
The opening sequence tries for screwball comedy style, but it is only slightly weird and far from hilarious. Soon the film goes into fast decline, in a structure that is a succession of sections, each with its title.
"Flying" is followed by "Mom and Dad." Mom is Anne Bancroft, nee Anna Maria Luisa Italiano, one of the very few Catholics who can do a Jewish Mother turn, which she sort of does here. Perhaps husband Mel Brooks is of help.
Dad (Charles Durning) is a retired something or other employee of an airline or of the Baltimore airport. (This is made clear only at the end). He is a kind of putterer now.
Pa and Ma are eccentrics, sort of, but uninteresting as individuals and as a couple. If you remember Bancroft as the famously seductive Mrs. Robinson in 1967 "The Graduate," you can now see her in bra and slip. She may be showing us how well kept she is at 64, but her talent does not show in "Home."
The next chapter, "Company," centers mostly around Claudia's brother Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr.). Tommy is gay, but you can't tell. You learn it only when you hear that "he has broken with Jack." On the other hand, Tommy is relentlessly gay in the old sense, ebullient, bouncy and far, far too cute. You feel right away that Downey is uncomfortable in, and unconvinced by his role. He arrives from Boston with Leo Fish (Dylan McDermott) whom everybody takes for Tommy's new lover.
Each section has Claudia in it but is normally focused on one or two additional characters. In "Relatives" we meet Mom's unmarried sister, retired schoolteacher Geraldine Chaplin. Aunt Glady too is an eccentric, unconvincing and unconviced. Her closeups are cruel. Someone flatulates. There's an in-joke: a furnace repairman works for "The Big Heat" Company, a reference to a classic film noir.
In "More Relatives," we meet Claudia's younger sister Joanne ( her sententious husband Walter (Steve Guttenberg) and their two kids. The house becomes a zoo of agitation and hyperactivity, forced and seldom funny. Only the cat is normal.
Next, "The Dinner" reveals that Tommy had married Jack some time ago. Joanne calls Tommy a freak. He keeps his good mood but overacts again. By accident, Joanne gets a plateful spilled on her dress. It turns out that Leo Fish is heterosexual. Geraldine Chaplin passionately kisses Dad on the mouth.
Watching the slicing of the turkey, it dawned on me that this film was trying to be a slice of life. But it is also a turkey that Jodie Foster directed--her second effort, after "Little Man Tate." Just as responsible is the uneven writer W. D. Richter, whose biggest hit was the dubious "Buckaroo Banzai." His best works were "Slither," "Nickelodeon," and the excellent remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." The Stephen King story he scripted before "Home" was the disastrous "Needful Things." .
In "Cleanup" Claudia's daughter calls, tells mom that she is disgusted with her boyfriend and is still a virgin. Tommy and Walter have a fight. Jack telephones Tommy. Tommy is happy. The marriage is on again. The movie turns "sensitive."
"Now What?" follows. Here, this mish-mashy, misguided, mis-written film predictably brings together Leo Fish and Claudia. Earlier, Leo was passable as a quiet observer. Now that he emotes, he is artificial. The couple have a too-cute impromptu date and kiss. Taking leftovers to Joanne's house, the sisters have a heart-to-heart talk. Says Claudia: "We don't have to like each other. We're a family." This, I guess, is the moral of the story.
Viewer Liberation comes with "The Point." Claudia and Leo, by mutual consent, will not have sex as they are going in different geographic (and other) directions. Dad watches home movies. More sentiment. The real point is that this movie is pointless. That not a single performer is explored, seems to believe in his part, plays well, is involving, That no one uses more than two basic expressions.
Claudia takes the return plane. Who comes in but Leo, with a ridiculous lamp (don't ask)? He proposes that they spend the two-hour flight sitting together. Perhaps they'll go to sleep. That's what the film's audience ought to do too.