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Home for the Holidays

Rated PG-13, 104 min. Directed by Jodie Foster. Starring Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Geraldine Chaplin, Steve Guttenberg, Cynthia Stevenson, Claire Danes.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 3, 1995

I wished I liked this movie more than I did. Ironically, that's something of the feeling I think director Foster is trying to capture in Home for the Holidays -- not in regard to her movie, of course, but in regard to that universal feeling we all share about the ritual of going home: the dread, the constant reminders of why you left, the corny predictability, and, despite it all, the overwhelming comfort gained from the knowledge that there exists a “home” to which you can return. Maybe it's just that I have higher ambitions for family life than the port-in-a-storm scenario seemingly posed by Home for the Holidays. Overall, the movie stresses the more painful and awkward moments; moments that might be classified as “heartwarming” are rare. This results in a very cynical tone and I suspect that was not the desired effect. Perhaps the aim was for a tone that was more knowing and wryly comical, but as it stands, Home for the Holidays is a very mixed bag. The performances are all pleasurable to watch, although I must admit that Hunter's mannerisms are starting to seem a bit worn to me. However, Downey, Jr., as Hunter's gay brother, can do no wrong in my book. Durning and Bancroft make a believable, long-married couple and Bancroft's homage to her role as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate as she strips down to her bra and slip is just breathtaking. Yet too many things about the movie are implausible. Claudia (Hunter), who begins the movie with a bad head cold, loses it suddenly and miraculously with nary a trace. It's also hard to believe that someone like Claudia who journeys home out of a sense of obligation and “good daughter” responsibilities would, in turn, allow her own daughter (Danes) to stay home and not also make the trek. I could go on with examples for a while. But the big thing that I can't figure is the movie's ending which shows Claudia giving in and taking a chance on love. Is that what this whole family hegira was about… to find a handsome stranger and start all over again? There so many likable moments in Home for the Holidays that nail situations so aptly that it's a shame that there are so many more moments that leave you scratching your head and wondering what to think.
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