HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS is one of those bittersweet holiday comedic
dramas. In a fresh setup, we have a grownup single mom, Claudia (Holly
Hunter), reluctantly going back to stay with her parents for
Thanksgiving. Hunter is a gifted actress most recently seen giving an
excellent performance in the great movie COPYCAT.
Claudia is down on her luck. In the opening scene, her boss at
the art museum tells her, "You're fired. I had to. We lost ninety
percent of our federal money." She then proceeds to lose her coat on
the way to what she envisions will be the Thanksgiving from hell. Her
sixteen year old daughter (Claire Danes) drives her to the airport and
reinforces that notion by warning her, "Check out what you have to look
forward to: cigarettes, junk food, and Gram's family stuffing." Her
daughter nonchalantly informs her as she is driving off that she
intends to sleep with her boyfriend while her mom is gone. The movie
seems to be saying, such is single motherhood in the 90s.
When Claudia arrives at the airport in Baltimore, her mom (Anne
Bancroft) and dad (Charles Durning) are there to greet her. Actually,
her mom seems to be there solely to offer a constant stream of
unsolicited advice. Upon driving away, they get stuck in holiday
traffic. Mom has a mile long cigarette stuck in Claudia's face most of
the time while she lectures Claudia with such wisdom as "I can see your
roots." The small car is an extremely confining and claustrophobic gas
chamber for Claudia. Don't feel too sad for her however because
eventually everyone in the movie including Claudia ends up smoking like
chimneys. Hollywood continues to think that most Americans smoke and
have taken drugs, even if some of them have never inhaled.
Claudia's daughter told her to "Float. Just float" like the angel
fish when tense. Claudia repeats this as a mantra while at her
parents, but she also steaks off to her old bedroom to smoke pot. This
drug usage was one of many unnecessary scenes in the picture.
The movie does not know what it wants to be. In W. D. Richter's
script, based on a Chris Radan short story, sometimes it is quite
funny. Other well written lines are extremely poignant. When talking
with her uptight sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), Claudia tells her,
"You don't know the first thing about me." To which Joanne thinks and
then says, "If I just met you on the street and you gave me your
number, I'd throw it away." Claudia, visibly hurt, replies, "We don't
have to like each other. We're family."
Against the all too infrequent laughter and well written serious
moments, we have a lot of balderdash and sight gags - adults shooting
each other with water hoses and that sort of thing. One of the stars
of the show is Claudia's brother Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr.). Downey
grates on your nerves with severe overacting. He is a mercurial actor
who needs good directorial advice which director Jodie Foster never
provided. He is literally bouncing off of the walls in most scenes as
if he was mainlining caffeine during breaks. In one of the worst
series of scenes we have him constantly driving off burning rubber when
Claudia or his friend Leo (Dylan McDermott) try to get back in his old
hot rod of a car.
Second to the gratingly bad performance by Downey is that of
Bancroft's. She delivers a heavily cliched rendition of an overbearing
mom. Durning is okay playing a dad who seems sort of out of it.
Although Stevenson has to be part of the disgustingly silly old joke of
a flying cooked turkey that falls in her lap, I thought she was
interesting in a minor, one dimensional role. Her banker husband
Walter (Steve Guttenberg) is given a part with no substance. He gets
to mouth only a few lines, e. g., "Cash is King. Cash is the fossil
fuel that keeps our economic pistons pumping." It sounds funnier than
it is in the show. There is also crazy Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin)
who wears Fruit Loops for a necklace and says one outlandish thing
after another. Chaplin was fine with the part.
I am a big fan of Holly Hunter. I though she was quite good in a
highly uneven movie. The best scene is when she is at the door of her
childhood bedroom and is trying to figure out if she really wants to
fend off an admirer or not. She can do romance well if the directors
would just let her. Too often they back off and have her cut to comedy
as they did in BROADCAST NEWS. I would have liked HOME FOR THE
HOLIDAYS to have spent a lot more time on her romance.
I found myself constantly monitoring my watch wondering how much
more of this I had to endure. Every time Downey or Bancroft got in a
scene, which is most of them, I thought, yuck, what next. In fact, the
movie is a series of labeled vignettes, and toward the end one is
actually labeled "What Next".
There is a good movie contained within HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS which
I suppose is why most of the critics love this show. For me, there are
way too many failed sight gags and characters that got on my nerves
with their antics and mannerisms. If Claudia's mom didn't leave her
alone soon, I thought I was going scream. The best part of this movie
for me was the ending. Not that the ending is good, which it actually
is, but that it finally came and I could go home.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes