Movie Review by Debbie Winkler
Starring: Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott
Director: Jodie Foster
Release Date: 3 November 1995
Length: 103 minutes
Movie Rating: PG-13
View Format: DVD
Claudia (Holly Hunter) just lost her job, made out with her ex-boss, sent her daughter off to have sex with her boyfriend at his parents’ house, and is on her way to another fun-filled family Thanksgiving. Her chaos-creating brother, Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.), does everything he can to make waves and her sister, Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), is extremely uptight and unrelatable. Her parents are older and seem even less likely to understand what their children are up to than ever and, to make matters worse, there is a handsome stranger (Dylan McDermott) there to witness every humiliating moment!
When I watched this movie for the first time, I hated it. I did not really see the humor in a completely dysfunctional family getting together to celebrate Thanksgiving together. However, as I grew older, I came to realize that there is a sick, twisted type of laughter that can come from watching a movie like this one. Even families that get along well have a touch of dysfunctionality in them. I am fortunate that I come from a family where we grew together as we grew older rather than far apart. This is not to say that we all get along all the time, but, for the most part, we are all good friends. I genuinely enjoy seeing my family around the holidays, but I also enjoy coming home to my peaceful little apartment afterwards.
Whether you enjoy the holidays with your family or not, I must point out that this is not the type of movie that I would feel comfortable watching with my family over the holidays as you are going to offend some, hurt others and bore the remainder. Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) just got fired (a touchy subject in these economically down-turned times), made out with her 60+ ex-boss, was informed by her teenage daughter (Claire Danes) that she is ready to have sex with her boyfriend and does not fit in with her family at all any more. It doesn’t help that she got pregnant as a young teenager, never got married, has been pursuing a career in an art-related field, but has given up on herself as far as becoming a true artist is concerned and now she is going to be confronted with her conventionally successful sister, Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson). Joanne and her husband, Walter (Steve Guttenberg), are the normal couple in this movie, but they are presented in an abnormal, rather rigid way. They stress about making the holiday perfect and are definitely by-the-book, live-life-by-the-rules type of people. Sadly, this is probably the way many of us react around the holidays and it makes me think that I need to cut loose and have a bit more fun around my family – its not like they can change their minds and trade me in for someone else! Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.), Claudia’s brother, swoops into town to liven things up. He just got married to his partner, Jack (Sam Slovick) and gives up all of Claudia’s secrets while seriously antagonizing Joanne & her family. For the older generation, Adele Larson (Anne Bancroft), their long-suffering mother, is hanging onto the vision of a perfect family, but is way too weird to be able to expect her children to turn out as “normal.” Henry Larson (Charles Durning), the sweetie of a father, is still trying to do everything he did when he was younger and stronger. He is forgetful, hard-of-hearing and clinging to his vices like a lifeline. Throw in crazy Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin) and you have a real party on your hands! Those of you who dread going home for the holidays and really have to go through situations like the one portrayed here, you have my deepest sympathies. For those of you who have relatively normal holiday experiences (all things considered), you can get a glimpse of why so many people dread the holiday season.
The more that I watch this movie, the more that I come to appreciate some of the subplots and classic holiday sequences. Holly Hunter plays a likeable loser who is crushing on her gay brother’s friend, Leo Fish (Dylan McDermott), but she thinks that they are a couple. By the time that she discovers that her brother is setting her up, most of the holiday is gone and their relationship is left hanging, but in a hopeful way. Robert Downey Jr. is a scene-stealer as the outrageous brother, Tommy, of the Larson clan. He bends the rules when it comes to play football with the rest of the family, makes over-the-top comments guaranteed to garner everyone’s attention and create maximum embarrassment and is generally a pain in the neck! He is also the source of almost all of my favorite scenes! Robert Downey Jr. is so young and handsome in this movie. This is back before life stomped all over him and he looks fresh, unlined and mischievous. Two of my favorite scenes revolve around his antics. The first is when he argues with Claudia, who storms out of the car. He apologizes and, when she turns to get back in the car, he drives away. Granted, this would drive me crazy in real life, but it is pretty funny watching it happen to other people. The other scene is where he is carving the turkey (see the video clip above) and “accidentally” jettisons it into his sister, Joanne’s, lap, who is completely horrified. The only character who manages to stand up to Tommy’s antics is Geraldine Chaplin, who plays their Aunt Gladys. She is just nuts! She views life through her coke-bottle glasses and clearly, her vision is distorted through them! I love that she is always giving away lamps to people and trying to tell stories, but getting them all mixed up so that no one knows what she is talking about. Dylan McDermott is a charmer and it is just a shame that we don’t see more of him on TV or in the movies these days. Sparks were flying between him and Tommy and him and Claudia so we were kind of kept guessing for a while until you realized who he was really going after. Charles Durning, who plays Claudia & Tommy’s father, has most of the touching moments in the movie. There is a really nice scene at the end that gave me warm, fuzzy feelings like I have come to expect from most holiday movies. Their father is down in the basement, watching old home movies, while he remembers their childhood and his younger years. It made me remember Christmas a few years ago when my father decided to put all of our old pictures and home movies on DVD for us as a gift. I had completely forgotten most of the embarrassing moments that were captured when I was a child and was totally horrified to see them on my parents’ huge, flat-screen TV! After watching this scene, I realized that my dad watches these movies and remembers all of the good times and the hopes and dreams that went along with them, while I was just mortified. I guess that I am glad that there are some moments that were captured for all of us to remember what we looked like and sounded like when we were kids, I just hope that any future boyfriends of mine will never see these!
Anyway, this movie is a bit of a mess, but it was still fun to see how strong family bonds are. They argue, play, embarrass, support and love each other. This film will remind you that your family members are your best friends and your worst enemies. The reason why I dread the holidays is because they are never perfect. That may be why I hated this movie so much at first. The holiday shown here is so much less than perfect that it makes me feel infinitely better about my own Thanksgiving experiences in comparison. I doubt that this movie will become a regular holiday staple for me to watch, but there are so few Thanksgiving movies that they play around the holidays that it is for the best that I have found a way to enjoy this off-beat holiday film.
This movie really pushes the PG-13 rating. There is a lot of swearing, including the *f* word. One of the main characters is an out-and-proud gay man. There are several scenes of drinking and smoking. Most of the scenes include some kind of fight sequence between siblings, many of them over-the-top and pretty hurtful. There are scenes that include discussions of teen & out-of-wedlock pregnancies, having sex for the first time, and some heavy petting. Recommended for ages 16 and up.