Home for the Holidays is not a Christmas movie, it’s a Thanksgiving movie. With the exception of some Peanuts films I can’t think of too many things right off the top of my head that center around that holiday. However, Home for the Holidays has quickly risen on the list of my favorite holiday films.
My best friend once said that Home for the Holidays made her feel better about her holidays because nothing could be worse than what the Larson family goes through in this film, and with the exception of knife pulling, or acts of horrendous violence that is basically true. Home for the Holidays isn’t your typical holiday film, in fact the Larson family in the film is incredibly dysfunctional, each of the family members tend to keep to themselves, and they all dread getting together but like any good American family every Thanksgiving and Christmas they do it anyway.
The central lead of this ensemble piece is Claudia Larson played by Holly Hunter. Claudia is down and out depressed by the loss of her job and her personal life and having to go to her parents without even the security blanket of her daughter is tough. We soon uncover why as her parents Adele & Henry Larson are overbearing and pushy; what I love is that I am guessing most of the audience can identify with this as the Larson’s aren’t really horrific parents, but their children’s reaction to them is much the same as we’ve all felt towards out parents at least once in our lives – we just want to be allowed to run our own lives without interference and commentary.
The most outstanding member of the family is Tommy Larson played by Robert Downey Jr. Tommy is gay, but doesn’t make an issue of it. It’s part of who he is and it completely fits his already over the top personality; he is the member of the family that usually starts or aids in any of the chaos that is occurring. Tommy and Claudia are the closest of the two siblings, and it’s their bond that helps to carry the movie, turning it from a cynical holiday tale to a heartwarming film.
The Larson family has issues, issues that tend to come out when you wouldn’t want them to – in this case at Thanksgiving. Tommy & Claudia’s sister Joanne looks down on her siblings and tries to control her parents and her own family so tightly that she manages to suck the joy out of the celebration. She can’t handle the chaos that her family seems to thrive off of and her way of handling the situation is to make Tommy & Claudia the brunt of her insults and barbs to elevate herself.
Even though I’ve painted this film as a bleak picture of a holiday and a family I assure you that it’s not. The entire reason I love Home for the Holidays is that behind the chaos, the family craziness, and even the aggravating sibling is a heart. That heart is Tommy & Claudia.
Tommy & Claudia are the members of the Larson family that care about each other and their lives the most. They care about each other’s relationships, their hardships and are there for the other when it’s asked and even when it’s unspoken; their lives couldn’t be more different but Tommy & Claudia have reached through the muck and mire of family drama and found each other on the other side.
Home for the Holidays also works because the Larson family is easily relatable, but like any good filmic representation they are just a little larger than life. Mom walks & smokes while worrying about her wig, Dad has become over affectionate with his wife, even around his children and sneaks pie but then admits it, Joanne raises children concerned with aerobics and white meat vs. dark, Tommy talks incessantly about anything and everything, and Claudia frets constantly about the daughter she left hundreds of miles away. All of these characters together create a dynamic that is wonderful to watch and much more heartfelt than a printed blurb about the film can ever capture.
Jodie Foster made Home for the Holidays as her second directorial effort and she chose her story, cast and setting very well. One of the most wonderful things about watching talented actor-turned-directors is that they tend to have actors that deliver phenomenal performances and the interplay between characters is always astounding. This film is no exception. As an actor herself, Jodie Foster was able to bring out the nuances in the performance of not just one actor but all of them and this is what helps the film be so dang entertaining to watch. The actors have a genuine, familial chemistry on screen and disappear into their roles leaving you wondering what will happen next, or what childhood shadow will come out to play.
I highly recommend Home for the Holidays but I am very aware it is not everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to holiday films. However, if you’re looking for something different this Holiday season I think this might be the film for you, and if not, well I also recommend a few others that run the spectrum of Holiday goodness.
Megan’s Holiday Viewing:
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (original)
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Muppet Christmas Carol
When Harry Met Sally