Every year the holiday seasons roll around, and with each season you see celebrations of films centered on the holidays. Halloween has the entire horror genre to look at, Christmas has hundreds of films dating back to the beginning of film history, and Valentine’s Day has any film with a romantic subplot (which is just about any film ever made). There are two holidays that often get left out of this fun, though. When was the last time you heard someone talk about a Thanksgiving or New Year’s film? I want to fix that. That’s why this November, each week I’ll be watching and writing about a different film set around Thanksgiving. To start off, I’m going to talk about "Home for the Holidays," a strange little romantic comedy directed by Jodie Foster.
"Home for the Holidays" is a weird film. It starts with a close-up montage of Claudia, our protagonist, painting with egg yolk on a very large canvas. After this montage, we watch her as she goes back to her boss’s office, walking in a trance-like state until she sinks into one of his chairs. He then fires her, and in the process of being comforted by him, Claudia makes out with him before rushing away embarrassed. She then is driven to the airport by her 18-year-old daughter Kitt who informs her that she won’t be attending her family’s Thanksgiving dinner, preferring instead to join her boyfriend at his parents’ house. She also tells Claudia in very clear terms that she’s going to have sex with her boyfriend while she’s there.
That all happens in the first five minutes, and it gets stranger from there. Claudia’s uncomfortable flight is followed by an uncomfortable drive home with her parents, and once she gets home, she and her mother have a surreal conversation about children thinking their mother is crazy, which happens as Claudia’s mother undresses for bed. The very next morning, their entire family is woken up by Claudia’s brother Tommy, who we first see sneaking around their house with a set of spy goggles and a Polaroid camera. We also see that Tommy has a habit of taking intrusive pictures of his sister, at first ripping off the covers of her bed to snap a photo of her underwear, and later taking a picture of her as she showers.
The strange behaviors escalate with the introduction of the rest of the family attending Thanksgiving dinner, with each new member having a number of strange quirks that seem like they might be a little less than socially acceptable, and all of the strange behavior comes to a head at the actual Thanksgiving dinner, where each individual's quirk is escalated to the point of insanity and played off the others' wonderfully in what is clearly the best scene in the film. And the high level of insanity only lowers slightly after the dinner, with to Tommy getting into a fight with his brother-in-law over a game of football. It all blends together beautifully, with each and every quirk and escalation feeling surreal and believable at the same time.
Unfortunately, the film falls apart after the Thanksgiving dinner, losing most of the tension and development of the characters that had been established before. It attempts to shift its focus away from the family relationships in favor of a romantic subplot between Claudia and Leo, Tommy’s friend that she met that morning. Their romance is contrived as hell, and none of their interactions feel natural, despite their relatively solid chemistry. The film also attempts to provide closure on a conflict between Claudia and her sister, but because of its focus on the romance, it doesn’t have the time to commit to reconciling their differences or giving a failed reconciliation actual depth and meaning.
That, of course, could be the point, and it’d certainly be an interesting point to make, but the final scene of the film has Claudia and Leo flying back to Chicago together, with Leo telling Claudia that it doesn’t matter if they never see each other again, since they’ll still have the time they spent together. That being the film’s final statement makes it clear that Foster wants us to see the focus on romance as her showing us the one thing that will make Claudia the most happy. But, while I’m willing to buy that the romance is what will make Claudia the happiest in that moment, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if she’d spent that time focusing on her relationship with her sister, because even if she was unable to change anything, it would’ve been far more interesting for us if we had seen her try, instead of spend all her time focusing on a man she’s known for less than 24 hours.