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Home for the Holidays

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Home for the Holidays

Starring: Holly Hunter, Robert Downey, Jr.
Director: Jodie Foster
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: November 1995
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Anne Bancroft, Dylan McDermott, Charles Durning, Geraldine Chaplin, Claire Danes, Steve Guttenberg, Cynthia Stevenson, Austin Pendleton

Review by Steve Rhodes
1½ stars out of 4

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

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