CONFESSION: I’ve watched this movie every year around Thanksgiving since it came out in 1995. I was 13 and it was VHS favorite of my mother’s. I still consider it the best Thanksgiving Movie (not that there’s a lot) ever created.
Let me tell you how this movie stands the test of time: Family Dysfunction never goes out of style. Feeling like a loner inside your own home never becomes obsolete. Leaving and returning home will always be as familiar as the roasted turkey itself. Those stories will never die.
This film however hits especially close to home, in it’s multiple similarities to my own life. If you haven’t seen it, well… I’m not hiding you from any spoilers because the damn movie is (holy shit) 22 YEARS OLD! I would say go out and rent it already, but nowadays… yeah. Netflix, Redbox, Amazon.. you know how to find it in this digital era.
Home for the Holidays was a modest little indie film that did NOT do well in theaters, starring Holly Hunter and directed by Jodie Foster. If those names don’t jog your memory, then how about this one: Robert Downey Jr.? Yup, Ironman himself once played Holly Hunter’s flamboyantly gay brother (this was before rehab of course). Oh, Claire Danes is also in this, which gave it another level of 90’s cool (and a reason for my teenage self to watch it repeatedly).
Anyway.. STORY: Single mom (Holly Hunter) gets laid off from her job as an Restoration Artist at a Chicago museum right before she heads home to visit her parents (The late Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning). Her 16-year-old daughter (Claire Danes) isn’t coming along because she wants to stay and lose her virginity (music to any mother’s ears!). Judgmental family members descend upon the parents’ house, and Holly’s sanity is thankfully rescued by her obnoxiously hilarious gay brother (Ironman) who brings along a sweet piece of man meat (Dylan McDermott) for his sister to feast upon.
When I first watched Home for the Holidays, I was Clare Danes’ sympathizer. Ironically, I am now Holly Hunter’s age in the movie, and I am also a solo parent. The seamless transition between character identification makes this movie all the more closer to my heart. It makes me wonder if I will eventually sympathize with the matriarch Anne Bancroft, disapproving of her children’s life choices yet loving them all the same.
As far as Holly Hunter’s single mom, she has a close comradery with her teen daughter, which I can relate through my own relationship with my daughter (also an only child, as represented in the movie). She escaped her past by leaving home and making a life for herself in Chicago ( I escaped mine by moving to Denver). She’s an artist who doesn’t have time to paint anymore (me too). She’s totally uninterested in finding a partner (yup, was definitely me), so when her brother tries to push the handsome McDermott at her, she barely gives him the time of day. Her own mother ever tries to set her up with the heating repair man, much to her chagrin. Her sister makes side-eye bitchy comments such as “not all of us can abandon our parents and go have glamorous lives”, insinuating that Holly’s choice to recreate her identity away from the family was selfish and cruel.
What makes this movie even more close to my life is that I have a gay sibling, who luckily was accepted by our family when she came out. Robert Downey Jr.’s character is not so fortunate (though this was more definitely taboo in 1995), and his marriage to his partner is all but hidden until he is rudely outed by his homophobic younger sister (not Holly). My own sister was married in private last year, and I can’t help but notice just how similar this movie continues to be to my own life.
All that aside, the film is well written, funny and heartbreaking even on its modest scale. The story is sectioned like a book: in chapters, titled on the screen. It gives the audience moments of reflection before the next drama unfolds. By the end you are not only rooting for Holly and Dylan to get together, but appreciating each family member’s relationship in it’s own. The quiet, intimate moments that aren’t present when we are all together at Thanksgiving are apparent in the film’s final montage over Nat King Cole’s “The Very Thought of You”.
Sometimes we forget that even when there’s all out war declared in our family unit, in private we are small, vulnerable humans who only want to be loved. This movie keeps you humble in that remembrance, and also lets you commiserate over your own family dysfunction.
P.S. Clare Danes comes to her senses and doesn’t lose her virginity to her immature boyfriend.
Who doesn’t want a happy holiday ending?