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Case Number 01397

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Home For The Holidays

MGM // 1995 // 103 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 18th, 2001

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All Rise...

The Charge

On the fourth Thursday in November, 84 million American families will gather together…and wonder why.

Opening Statement

To follow up her directorial debut (1991's Little Man Tate), Jodie Foster chose a subject that is near and dear to all our hearts: families and the holidays. What other time can people come together and feel both love and annoyance for each other all in the span of one intolerably long weekend? Yes, Thanksgiving is a magical time filled with turkey, stuffing, and obnoxious relatives. On the surface Home For The Holidays may look like the average holiday comedy, but it ends up being something different…and better. Starring a talented cast, including Holly Hunter (Raising Arizona), Robert Downey, Jr. (Soapdish), Anne Bancroft (The Graduate), and Charles Durning (Tootsie), Home For The Holidays is served on DVD care of MGM Home Entertainment.

Facts of the Case

In the span of what seems to be minutes, Claudia Larson (Hunter) manages to lose her job as a restoration artist at a museum, accidentally make out with her boss, and find out that her teenage daughter Kit (Claire Danes, Romeo + Juliet) is about to lose her virginity over the Thanksgiving holiday with her boyfriend Tim. To top it all off, Claudia is flying out of Chicago to spend the holidays at her parents' house, a place filled so many kooks and oddballs that it makes a sanitarium look like a Mensa think tank.

Enter Claudia's ferociously weird family members: there's Claudia's eccentric brother Tommy (Downey, Jr.) and his handsome pal Leo Fish (Dylan McDermott), her anal-retentive sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson) and her equally uptight husband Walter (Steve Guttenberg), Claudia's weird Aunt Gladys (Geraldine Chaplin), and the capper of the family, Claudia's overbearing mother (Anne Bancroft) and spaced out father (Charles Durning).

Together the Larson family will share what should be a simple traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Along the way they'll each experience their share of laughter, tears, and flying turkeys…for that's what being "home for the holidays" is all about.

The Evidence

I'd heard some good things about Home For The Holidays. While talking to some friends I overheard one of them quip "I absolutely loved that movie!" Well, that seemed to be as good an endorsement as any. I'm glad I took them up on their recommendation.

We all have relatives that either A.) we can't stand or B.) we can only stand for a limited amount of time. One of the curses of family gatherings is that you have to be around these people. One of the blessings is that you have other family members that you can escape with, often times laughing at the absurdity of the situations around you. In essence, it can be like reverting back to your childhood. I could easily relate to Home For The Holidays. I have many family members who drive me insane. Then they make me laugh. Then they make me mad, and so on, and so on. If you have the same types of experiences with your relatives, I guarantee that you're going to thoroughly enjoy Home For The Holidays. The small nuances that the film captures are what really make it something special. There were moments during this movie where I caught myself thinking, "How many times has THAT happened to me with my family!?!" Many of the ticks and traits in each character reminded me of someone that I know or once knew in my family. It's a rare film that captures this kind of funny zest for the audience—and Home For The Holidays does it with grace, style and warm wit.

Home For The Holidays is not so much great story as it is a wonderful character study. By the end of the film, certain characters have gone through certain changes, but they aren't largely specific. The changes they make are more internal than external. Holly Hunter is the perfect choice for the role of Claudia. Hunter exudes charismatic frustration, and is a wonderful tool for the audience to sympathize with. She is at a personal crossroads in her life, and seeing her family again is either going to give her strength…or tear her apart. Or, just maybe a little bit of both. The supporting cast around Hunter is one of the strongest I've seen in an ensemble cast. Robert Downey, Jr. nearly steals the show as Tommy, Claudia's eccentrically homosexual brother. Tommy has such a manic excitement of life that he's like a rubber ball bouncing off the walls. He wrestles with sister, takes Polaroids of everyone in his or her most embarrassing private moments, and seems to have the bantering style of a TV sitcom on speed (I'll dispense with any Downey/prison jokes for once). Equally odd are Charles Durning and Anne Bancroft as Claudia's frighteningly realistic parents. You know the type I'm talking about—where they've been around each other so long that they're practically one and the same. Bancroft is hysterically batty as Claudia's long-suffering mother (and maybe even a relative of Debbie Reynolds' elderly character in Albert Brooks' Mother), and Durning is charming as usual as the father who seems to be from a completely different planet. One of my favorite moments comes in the form of David Strathairn (Limbo) as Russell "Sad Sack" Terziak, a literal sad frump who dumps all his problems on a smiling and bewildered Claudia. The rest of the cast, including a funny Steve Guttenberg (!!) and Dylan McDermott make this movie all the more enjoyable. Jodie Foster shows that she is a very talented director with a gift for seeing characters with a skewed and funny eye (for more on this, check out her first film Little Man Tate). I may sound like a sap, but Home For The Holidays really tugged on my heartstrings. And just like being with my family and yours, it was both sweet and painful all at the same time.

Home For The Holidays is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is an above average transfer with only slight imperfections. Overall, the colors looked very sharp and clear. Blacks were also solid and dark with only a slight bit of gray to them. There was a small amount of grain and dirt, but that's probably due more to the low budget of the movie than the transfer. Edge enhancement was kept to a minimum. Home For The Holidays is a nicely rendered transfer by MGM.

Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in both English and French. Because this is mainly a dialogue driven comedy, I wasn't surprised by the lack of aggressive surround features on this disc. There were a few times when the surround kicked in (mostly when there was bombastic music playing over the picture, or Mark Isham's melodic score in the background), but overall this is a very mild 5.1 track. All dialogue, effects, and music were very clean. Also included are Spanish and French subtitles.

MGM has seen fit to make this release pretty plain, though there are a few extras that should make fans of the film happy. Included is a commentary track by director Jodie Foster. Though there were some lulls and gaps in the track, I found Foster to be exceedingly talkative and very interesting. You can feel that she has a real love of directing and is very proud of her work on Home For The Holidays. Chatty and personable, this track should entertain and enlighten fans. Also included on this disc is an original theatrical trailer presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I'm sure if racked my brain I could come up with some fluffed up negative comments to make about Home For The Holidays. As it stands, I really thought this was a touchingly funny film about the trials and tribulations of family holidays. With a sparkling cast and great direction by Jodie Foster, Home For The Holidays is a treat to watch year after year.

Closing Statement

For a low price, I can easily recommend Home For The Holidays as a purchase. Coming from a guy who thinks that Killer Klowns From Outer Space is the end all to be all of cinema, this is a pretty bold statement. Quirky performances and a funny script by W.D. Richter (Needful Things) make this the perfect movie to watch with your family…even if they are more dysfunctional than the Larsons.

The Verdict

MGM and Home For The Holidays are both free to go. This movie is filled with heart-warming fun that will make you want to call your parents and siblings and yell "I love you!" or "I hate you!"

You decide.

Case dismissed!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 89
Audio: 86
Extras: 70
Acting: 95
Story: 92
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile

Studio: MGM
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Comedy
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailer
• Audio Commentary by Director Jodie Foster


• IMDb

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Review content copyright © 2001 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.