Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Film Review: HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1995, Jodie Foster)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 103 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Holly Hunter (CRASH, THE PIANO), Robert Downey, Jr. (WEIRD SCIENCE, NATURAL BORN KILLERS); Ann Bancroft (NIGHTFALL, THE GRADUATE), Charles Durning (SHARKEY'S MACHINE, DOG DAY AFTERNOON), Dylan McDermott (THE PRACTICE, HARDWARE), Geraldine Chaplin (DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, HABLA CON ELLA), Steven Guttenberg (CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC, DINER), Cynthia Stevenson (DEAD LIKE ME, HAPPINESS), Claire Danes (MY SO-CALLED LIFE, THE RAINMAKER), Austin Pendleton (CATCH-22, SHORT CIRCUIT), David Strathairn (THE RIVER WILD, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL). Music by Mark Isham (POINT BREAK, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE). Cinematography by Lajois Koltai (MOBSTERS, WRESTLING ERNEST HEMINGWAY).
Tag-line: "We'll do it every year..until we get it right."
Best one-liner: "I'm giving thanks that we don't have to go through this for another year. Except we do, because those bastards went and put Christmas right in the middle, just to punish us."

Upon HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS’ release, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "Neither caustic nor sentimental, it's a film that maybe half the people walking the earth have at one time considered writing..." And that's exactly it- everyone's had (or will have) these kind of family experiences that tiptoe between enraging awkwardness (in the here and now) and lovable idiosyncrasy (in retrospect). Oddly, those who so perfectly spun this tale are writer W.D. Richter (writer- BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS '79, director- THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI), and director Jodie Foster (her second feature). Like the best real-life eccentrics, the more time you spend with this film, the more it'll grow on you. It wasn't until my third or so viewing that it earned it's fifth star.

Holly Hunter is our beleaguered point of entry– fired from her job, and with a zinger laid on her by her daughter (Claire Danes) at the boarding gate, she must descend into the humiliation, ludicrousness, exuberance, and nostalgia of the Trip Back Home. The existential terrors of the airport, the catching up, the avoiding of random people from one's past- it's all captured in a brilliant observational style that never strays too far into mawkishness (nor, on the other end, silliness).


Durning and Bancroft enthusiastically bear witness to Holly Hunter's de-planing.


Her father:

is an organ-playin’, food-luvin' ("Redi-Whip! Smell it and weep!"), grumbling ("My goddamn pants are stuck in my socks!") Charles Durning.

Charles Durning and Ann Bancroft bust some moves.

Her mother is the amazingly crusty, chain-smoking, jigsaw puzzle-framing Ann Bancroft. Robert Downey, Jr. is her ebullient, gay, Polaroid-snapping brother. He's clearly riding the horse named "Big H," but that might be (!) why it’s his best performance. He's the kind of guy who will zoom by in his car (while blasting the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird") as you're having an awkward encounter with some BMW-drivin' d-bags you knew 20 years before.


Downey's dickery in this film is legendary.


The Polaroid paparazzo.


A Downey-Guttenberg brawl is mediated by Durning and a garden hose.

Her sister is Cynthia Stevenson, playing that same sadly bitchy role she does so well. A really pissy Steve Guttenberg is her brother-in-law, a delightfully spaced-out Geraldine Chaplin is her aunt, and David Strathairn plays the saddest sack in the universe. There's love, melancholy, and endless possibility… and there's so much going on (almost think MAD magazine meets James Joyce) that repeated viewings are extremely rewarding.

Five stars, and happy Thanksgiving!

-Sean Gill

2 comments:

J.D. said...

I swear it seems like Geraldine Chaplin has just come from some strange Robert Altman film and decamped in Foster's film. Her dinner monologue is a thing of beauty. And what can you say about Downey in this film? One of THE best character intros ever ... "Spin, Mommy, spin."

Sean Gill said...

Heh- I never gave it too much thought, but now that you mention it, many elements remind me of something like A WEDDING. Downey is so fantastic though– completely unhinged, and long before he became a household name- possibly his most compelling performance.