It is no secret that in the retail world these days, Thanksgiving takes a back seat, seemingly being forgotten between the costumes of Halloween which only seem to give way to Christmas trees and other holiday fare. And it seems that this is true in the cinema world as well. There are only a handful of “Thanksgiving” movies, and even fewer of them that are worth your time.
One of those is Home for the Holidays. This 1995 film, directed by Jodie Foster is one of those films that virtually every person can find a certain amount of familiarity within it. Claudia (Holly Hunter) is a divorced mother of one that flys home for Thanksgiving with the family, including her brother gay brother Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.), her neurotic sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), and parents, Adele and Henry (Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning). Along the way we also meet brother-in-law Walter (Steve Guttenberg), Tommy’s friend Leo (Dylan McDermott), and Aunt Gladys (Geraldine Chaplin).
Just before the trip begins Claudia loses her job, kisses her about to be ex-boss and is informed by her teenage daughter that she plans on having sex. Feeling overwhelmed, she calls her brother Tommy, asking him to come to Thanksgiving. He is gay, but what defines him for the family is more his quasi-obnoxious personality, his way of picking on his boring brother-in-law, his practical jokes, his wounding insights. Downey brings out all the complexities of a character who has used a quick wit to keep the world at bay. And in bringing along his friend, Leo Fish, he has a surprise that no one, including Claudia, could have anticipated. The parents seem to accept their son’s homosexuality without acknowledging it, which is an accurate note for many families. Aunt Gladys provides comic relief as the sister who reveals she has always been in love with her sister Adele’s husband Henry.
It is hard to decide if this is a drama or comedy as it has elements of both. Hunter and Downey give brilliant performances and similarly the rest of the supporting cast are equal to the task, and Foster puts it all together making it a family holiday that feels like a story that has elements of a past event that virtually anyone could have lived through with a combination of grimaces and laughs.
This isn’t as “off the grid” as most of the movies I tend to talk about are. But it is one that definitely doesn’t get the recognition of just how brilliant and worthwhile this film is. I highly suggest you add it to your holiday viewing list.