Home for the Holidays is not a feel-good holiday film. But the movie still is one of my favorite choices for post-pumpkin pie viewing on Thanksgiving Day. And the reason for that is simple: No matter how annoying, infuriating or downright dysfunctional your family may be, it's still hard to top the Larsons.
Here's an idea of what things are like for Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter), the main character of this 1995 Jodie Foster-directed film: In the movie's opening minutes, she loses her job, makes out with her soon-to-be ex-boss, and is informed that her teenage daughter plans to have sex — and that's before she gets on a plane to visit her severely screwed-up family in Baltimore. Once there, she's confronted by a whole slew of uncomfortable situations: sleeping in the room next to her chain-smoking, wig-wearing, hyper-critical mother (Anne Bancroft); being gently pushed toward a romance with her little brother's friend and business partner (Dylan McDermott); dealing with a sad-sack high school flame who's grown up into a sad-sack heater repairman who solemnly tells Claudia, "Well, merry Christmas, in case I never see you again."
What's great about Home for the Holidays is that it's neither too light nor too dark. It's wryly funny but mostly not goofy, save for a scene where a turkey goes flying into one Larson's lap. The characters are more fully drawn than in many family films: Yes, the Larsons are types, but they're not just "the gay brother" and "the quirky aunt," rather "the gay brother who takes Polaroids of his family naked" and "the quirky aunt who has 200 plants, gives away lamps, and makes necklaces out of Froot Loops." (Incidentally, Geraldine Chaplin deserves a medal for her portrayal of the latter.) And there are no deep, dark revelations or scenes that will leave you sobbing — just the slow, creeping realization that no matter how nutty your family may be, they're still the best thing you've got.