November 3, 1995 in Seven

Maybe You Can Go Home Again

By The Spokesman-Review
 

There are those of us who dread that simple four-word phrase, home for the holidays. Caught up in the minutiae of our adult lives, we nevertheless find ourselves tormented during the time of year framed by Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The source of that torment is usually a voice, either the one sounding from a telephone receiver or the one droning in our heads.

Wherever it comes from, it boasts a simple theme: Home, home, are you ever coming home?

That theme in all its variations is at the heart of “Home for the Holidays,” the second movie directed by Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster and the first to suggest that she may have a future as a great, not merely good, filmmaker.

For unlike the precious and occasionally maudlin “Little Man Tate,” “Home for the Holidays” is a more balanced effort. Depicting the emotional pressures that exist in many family gatherings is no easy task, and Foster occasionally lets her film get a bit overheated. But in bringing to life the screenplay by W.D. Richter (based on a short story by Chris Radant), Foster always recovers.

And the result is as authentically painful, poignant and, yes, even funny a representation of family dysfunction as you’re apt to find portrayed on an American movie screen.

Family dysfunction - ah, that overused term again. If only we could eliminate it from the language. But what better way is there to describe the characters featured here?

First there’s Claudia (Holly Hunter), the 40ish older sister who, when the film begins, is having a bit of a crisis. She’s been fired from her job, found herself liplocking her ex-boss (Austin Pendleton), has lost her coat, is coming down with a cold, has been told by her 16-year-old daughter (Claire Danes) that sex is on the imminent teen schedule and is stuck next to the archetypal obnoxious passenger on her flight from Chicago to hometown Baltimore.

And it goes downhill from there. For once she’s landed, Claudia is faced with Mom (Anne Bancroft) and Dad (Charles Durning). The single, short look that passes between Claudia and the miserable passenger of another car says everything about the dread some of us have about family relations (credit Foster for that simple visual cue).

“Home for the Holidays” is filled with intriguing characters, beginning with Bancroft’s overbearing mother and Durning’s obsessive father. Claudia’s beloved baby brother Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.) is her obvious soulmate, but he has his own baggage to carry: He’s close to being manic-depressive and is gay besides (which, considering the rest of his family, would seem a perfectly natural match).

Then there’s middle sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), whose overcontrolling nature is diametrically opposed to that displayed by either of her siblings. The difference extends even to her choice of husband, a bland banker (Steve Guttenberg), and two supremely snotty children.

This is a household of raging emotions, filled with the kind of fluctuating tension that is fueled by people who aren’t getting their needs met. The Thanksgiving dinner scene is a portrait of this tension bubbling to an eventual blow that, when it comes, leaves the nerves of everyone rubbed raw.

And yet “Home for the Holidays” has humor, too, the reliable refuge for those who feel pain too acutely. It also features pathos, which ultimately leads us to feel compassion, if not understanding, for the entire family.

Foster uses Richter’s conceit of chapter headings - “Flying,” “Company,” “Relatives,” etc. - to let us know what’s coming. But she compensates for such cuteness by allowing scenes to play as if they were free-standing moments - Claudia’s moment watching football with her father is a good example.

She’s aided immensely by her actors, all of whom - with the notable exception of Guttenberg - end up doing work that matches the best of their careers. Even the obligatory love interest, played by Dylan McDermott, has his moments.

And while Foster ties up the plot’s numerous loose ends, to her credit she doesn’t smoothe over all the naked emotions. She treats this gathering as just another moment in the lives of characters whose complicated love/hate for one other will neither let them come together nor fully break apart.

As Claudia, stung by something hurtful her sister has just told her, says, “We don’t have to like each other, Jo. We’re family.”

It’s the tie that, for better and worse, binds us all in the end.

, DataTimes MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: “HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS” Location: Newport Highway and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Jodie Foster; starring Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Geraldine Chaplin, Steve Guttenberg, Cynthia Stevenson and Claire Danes Running time: 1:45 minutes Rating: PG-13

OTHER VIEWS Other critics’ thoughts on “Home for the Holidays:” Chris Hewitt St. Paul Pioneer Press A surprisingly moving comedy, “Home for the Holidays” reminds you why you love your family and why they make you mental. … What “Home for the Holidays” gets so right is the intimacy of people who know each other really well. Nobody can get under your skin like your family, and the movie shows how simmering resentments can turn dinner into a disaster.

Jay Boyar Orlando Sentinel As everyone knows, you can’t choose your relatives. But you can choose the movies you watch. No one really can force you to see “Home for the Holidays” - a fact for which you ought to give thanks. … “Home for the Holidays” spends 90 minutes or so ridiculing the central character’s family and then winds things up with a big, warm Hollywood hug.

These sidebars appeared with the story: “HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS” Location: Newport Highway and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Jodie Foster; starring Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Geraldine Chaplin, Steve Guttenberg, Cynthia Stevenson and Claire Danes Running time: 1:45 minutes Rating: PG-13

OTHER VIEWS Other critics’ thoughts on “Home for the Holidays:” Chris Hewitt St. Paul Pioneer Press A surprisingly moving comedy, “Home for the Holidays” reminds you why you love your family and why they make you mental. … What “Home for the Holidays” gets so right is the intimacy of people who know each other really well. Nobody can get under your skin like your family, and the movie shows how simmering resentments can turn dinner into a disaster.

Jay Boyar Orlando Sentinel As everyone knows, you can’t choose your relatives. But you can choose the movies you watch. No one really can force you to see “Home for the Holidays” - a fact for which you ought to give thanks. … “Home for the Holidays” spends 90 minutes or so ridiculing the central character’s family and then winds things up with a big, warm Hollywood hug.


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