"On the fourth Thursday in November, 84 million American families will gather together...and wonder why." So goes the tag line for oft forgotten Thanksgiving film, Home For The Holidays. The year is 1995, a time when children in their twenties still traveled the country to get to their parents' house for Thanksgiving, as opposed to now, when many are already living at home again because of a bereft job market. Still, in spite of the fourteen years that have gone by since the release of one of Jodie Foster's few directorial efforts, the fundamental dysfunction brought to the forefront of familial relationships at Thanksgiving remains unchanged.
For her second directing jaunt after Little Man Tate, Jodie Foster had at her disposal quite an arsenal of stars, namely Robert Downey Jr. before he went drug and gun crazy in the infamous arrest of 1996 when he was pulled over for speeding on Sunset and was found to be in possession of both of the aforementioned. Foster also had the previously undiscovered beauty of Dylan McDermott, who, until that point, really only had Steel Magnolias as a major film credit. Add Anne Bancroft as the wig-toting matriarch and Holly Hunter as the star and the guarantee for an arch study of neuroses is afoot.
The tinge of failure Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) feels before embarking on her trip to her parents' house is solidified when she is fired from her job and then tries to make out with her old, aged boss as possibly some sort of last-ditch attempt at preserving her post at the museum where she restores artwork. To heighten her sense of vulnerability, her daughter Kitt (Claire Danes doing her best to break ties with TV and establish herself as a film actress), announces that she will not be accompanying her mother to Thanksgiving. Instead, she opts to go to her boyfriend's house, instilling the unneeded fear in Claudia that Kitt's going to spend her entire Thanksgiving repeatedly losing her virginity. And so, with all of this excess baggage on her shoulders, Claudia goes to her parents' house, also thinking that her brother and best friend, Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.), won't be there either.
Of course, the only other sibling she has is Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), who she naturally shares no affinity with. Along with Joanne, there's her two children and her husband Walter (Steve Guttenberg, briefly experiencing a mid-90s renaissance). Topping off the mix is Claudia's father and her Aunt Glady, a senile woman prone to unexpected fits of gaseousness. Terrified of how events will play out if she's left alone with these people long enough, Claudia is finally blessed with a stroke of good luck when Tommy shows up unexpectedly with his friend, Leo Fish (Dylan McDermott), who Claudia initially assumes is Tommy's boyfriend.
How events unfold from the miraculous appearance of Tommy is not exactly surprising. Old arguments ensue, unwanted truths are revealed, but all the same, it is a filmic journey worth taking for the sake of one's own personal catharsis with his genealogical lot in life. The only dumbfounding element about the movie is that it was made in the first place. The nineties were a somewhat uncertain time for independent films of this nature. It did not have the ear-cutting excitement of Reservoir Dogs or the shoot 'em up plot of The Boondock Saints. It was simply a film about the wear and tear associated with being an involved family member. Home For The Holidays was also unusual in that W.D. Richter, the writer of the screenplay, had previously been closely allied with the horror genre (i.e. Dracula and Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Then again, what could be more horrifying than being trapped at a table with your family for an entire day?