I remember reading reviews for Home for the Holidays that were pretty lack luster, admonishing the film for being too cynical & in bad taste, but in 1995 when the film came out I did not have a knowledge of film, or criticism that would have allowed me a desire to see the film or rebuff the critics. However, now that I have seen Home for the Holidays I can say that I can and will rebuke the critics of this film, especially the ones that call it too cynical and dark, one reviewer even chastised the film for being cynical and dark without meaning too be. Home for the Holidays is a cynical, darkly comedic film about what happens when you as an adult get together with your family for a holiday – the darkness and the cynicism is intended to underscore the fact that these individuals you grew up with can become complete and total strangers to you, or perhaps always were but only time & distance can bring this out in your relationship. However, what most of the critics ignored is the underlying bond and love that is the ultimate point woven into this film by director Jodie Foster.
Home for the Holidays has the most basic plot you can imagine. Claudia Larson is having a terrible week, she was just fired from her job restoring art because they lost their funding, she “accidently” made out with her boss, her daughter Kitt just dropped on her that she plans to lose her virginity and on top of that she has to go home to visit her parents for Thanksgiving without her daughter or her little brother Tommy there to help her. Distraught Claudia calls Tommy and leaves a tearful message on his machine wishing him and his partner Jack a happy Thanksgiving but unthinkingly telling him she really needs him at her parents house this year. Claudia arrives home to the exact awkwardness she expects from her too affectionate/observant parents and is surprised in the middle of the night when Tommy arrives to spend Thanksgiving with the family claiming he never got Claudia’s message, and bringing not Jack but co-worker Leo Fish in tow. The holiday unfolds with Tommy being his wacky self, their prim sister Joanne obsessing over everything and insulting Tommy at every turn, and senile aunt Gladys bringing up the past.
In an odd way I liked Home for the Holidays because the relationship between Claudia and Tommy reminds me of what I think the relationship between my little brother and I is like. If one or the other of us were in a situation where we genuinely needed the other person to be there we would do it – and this is Tommy and Claudia. Of all the members of the Larson family these are the two that love each other as unconditionally as everyone says you are supposed to love your family and it shows in their relationship. Both Tommy and Claudia are there for one another whenever the other needs them and defend each other from the craziness of the rest of the family. As much as we all love our families most of us know that our family members are also the people that can hurt us the most because they know us so well.
Claudia is falling apart because so much has happened to her in such a short, stressful period of time and the one she reaches out to is Tommy. Her well meaning family does nothing but make her feel worse until Tommy arrives. Tommy resists telling her at first that he came home because he got her message, but through a series of events it is revealed that Tommy not only got Claudia’s message but decided to leave Jack and their friends for Thanksgiving to be there for Claudia knowing that it was not going to be a pleasant experience for him to spend the time with his family. Without thought for himself Tommy came to Claudia to be the buffer that she needed him to be.
Tommy himself is very similar to Claudia but his greatest trait within the family is his over exuberance in any situation, Tommy does not blend in nor does he want to and he always puts on a brave face, something only Claudia can see through. Though it is alluded to for awhile that their sister Joanne does not like Tommy it seems that her distaste only stems from the fact that Tommy is loud & boisterous and she is all about being neat and orderly. However, an accident occurs at the Thanksgiving table & Joanne releases her full fury on her brother revealing that her true distaste for him stems from his lifestyle not his wacky behavior. Though Tommy claims none of this bothers him, later alone in the kitchen where Claudia & Tommy finish their Thanksgiving dinner the brother and sister share an embrace that gets to the real soul of their relationship.
I think that Home for the Holidays was not necessarily well received because the audience does not want a holiday movie that is going to point out the flaws of the holiday or of our families, but they want a holiday movie that is going to be light, sweet and fluffy – but that is not what Home for the Holidays is and it shouldn’t be judged by the same scale. This movie is not Miracle on 34th Street and should not be entered with such a mindset. However, as with some of the more off beat, dramatic American films I do get the feeling that if this film wasn’t an American film but instead something from another country Home for the Holidays would be lauded as a fresh look at the reality of American holidays but instead the critics didn’t know what to think of it.
Director: Jodie Foster
Writer: W.D. Richter
Claudia Larson: Holly Hunter
Tommy Larson: Robert Downey Jr.
Adele Larson: Anne Bancroft
Henry Larson: Charles Durning
Leo Fish: Dylan McDermott
Aunt Gladys: Geraldine Chaplin
Walter Wedman: Steve Guttenberg
Joanne Larson Wedman: Cynthia Stevenson
Kitt Larson: Claire Danes
Claudia: You don't know the first thing about me.
Joanne: Likewise, I'm sure. If I just met you on the street... if you gave me your phone number... I'd throw it away.
Claudia: Well, we don't have to like each other, Jo. We're family.