Home For the Holidays: Movie Review

Cheifetz, Danielle and Rodriguez

If you’re in the middle of paper writing, or rather procrastinating, but would be better suited if Thanksgiving break were here, Home for the Holidays is a movie that brings the celebration one step closer. Although this definitely is not a story of a perfect family gathering, what is? This film still reminds us of why family is important. Home for the Holidays (1995), directed by Jodie Foster, is centered around one woman’s trip home for Thanksgiving. Starring Holly Hunter, Dylan McDermott, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Cynthia Stevenson, Claire Danes and Steve Guttenberg, this is a film able to stand on its acting talent alone. There is more here then just big name stars. The significance of memory, familial bonds and love are all incorporated into the Thanksgiving Day celebration. Comprised of an aunt in love with her brother-in-law, a gay, childish brother, a judgmental, controlling sister, age-obsessed parents and a bratty niece, this family dynamic is quite strange, yet somehow so familiar to many. It is the story of a non-idealized family gathering and what is important in the long run. The creation of memories plays a major role in this film, yet ironically, it is only the awkward and embarrassing moments that are recorded. Cameras, whether Polaroid or video, are brought out at all the inappropriate times, for example, the scandalous instances between Holly Hunter’s character Claudia and her gay brother Tommy, played by Robert Downey Jr. One of these takes place when Claudia is showering and her brother comes into the bathroom, pulls back the curtain, and takes her photograph. Another example of this is when Tommy first arrives home and sneaks into Claudia’s bedroom, pulls back the covers, and takes pictures of her in her underwear. Talk about situations you’d rather forget, but are captured forever thanks to modern technology. During the Thanksgiving dinner, one of the more emotionally heightened scenes, the father, Henry, videotapes an ensuing fight between Joanne, his eldest daughter, and his son Tommy. This is a meta-cinematic moment capturing an uncomfortable yet very real conflict, something caught on tape that once again, everyone would rather forget. Another way in which the use of visual recording is perpetuated in this film is through its inability to capture the positive. The instances that are important are left for the characters to cherish in their own memories, not physically recorded, when they need comfort, support or a reminder of better times. Claudia survives the tenser situations with the memory of snorkeling through angel fish with her daughter Kit. “Float, just float” is her mantra throughout. Another example is how Henry remembers his children when they were younger, a specific point in their childhood innocence when he brought them to the airfield to watch the planes take off. This is a cherished recollection due to his children’s current problems and tension, as well as his own problems in the present. The juxtaposition between physically capturing irrelevant events and remembering fleeting yet powerful moments is carried through from beginning to end.Foster’s film uses classic songs to invoke feelings of nostalgia. Just as the characters use memories for support, so are songs associated with the past. Not only is the soundtrack used to somber the mood, but it also is utilized for comic relief. Tommy is introduced with the Shaft theme song and a classic blue GTO. These symbols signal to the audience his irreverent and obnoxious sense of humor. As the film ends, the melodic sound of “The Very Thought of You” reinforces the idea of memory while at the same time the audience is presented with a montage of unrecorded yet treasured moments in each family members’ life. This is the most poignant part of the film as it captures the ideas Foster is trying to convey to the audience. Foster does not let the audience walk away depressed but instead, through her use of sound and imagery, an expression of hope is achieved.A collection of humor and turmoil, Home for the Holidays is a film of realistic experiences and heart-felt warmth. Utilizing the importance of memory and our own nostalgia as we grow old, there are valuable lessons to be learned about appreciating each minute spent with your family no matter how difficult these moments might seem. So if you happen to be missing your sister’s whining, your eccentric aunt’s singing or your mother’s nagging, this film may be just what you’re looking for until you can return home once more for Thanksgiving.