Thursday, November 24, 2011

Home for the Holidays | 1995 | Screwball-ish Thanksgiving Holiday Family Dramedy (Worst Yet Most Descriptive Blog Post Title Ever)

My plan was to write about Home for the Holidays well ahead of Thanksgiving, but it's now the Sunday after.  I just finished hastily writing out the post below because I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that.  Essentially, there are over 340 days potent with the opportunity to prevent me from writing about this Thanksgiving holiday movie during the 2012 Window of Thanksgiving Relevance.  When you look at it that way, this post isn't half-assed and a little bit late, it is one individual attempting to beat on against the current... via sad little blog posts about movies.

Home for the Holidays may not be a card-carrying member of the screwball genre, but it is definitely welcome at the meetings.  It likely never aimed to be anything like a screwball, and it looks nothing like a screwball, and yet it ticks quite a few of the screwball boxes.

Claudia (Holly Hunter) is just the sort of comic anti-hero found in screwballs - smart, articulate, a bit of a mess, and destined to be paired with the most appropriate partner possible within the span of the film.  Also, like a few other screwballs (Bringing Up BabyIt Happened One Night among them) the film sends their cosmopolitan and urbane leads out to some version of wilderness (in this case it's the suburbs) providing opportunity to gather fresh perspective on their personal status-quo and make changes accordingly.

On the note of status quo, in most screwballs the lead is dissatisfied with it, while in this film it's the lead and pretty much everyone else. And this unease is linked to the class conflict in the film, which takes a different shape here than most screwball.  In Depression Era Screwball Comedies, the class conflict is between the classes, here it's within a class.  It's the mid-20th century American middle class beginning to realize its Golden Age is ending, or has ended, and is unsure how to proceed.

There's also a nice mixture of high and low comedy, mostly in the character of Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.).  Tommy's arrival at his parents home is essentially a friendly breaking-and-entering, complete with night vision and Dad/Grandpa Henry greeting him with a baseball bat; while carving the turkey Tommy accidentally flings the bird across the holiday table; when Aunt Gladys settles into Tommy's muscle car, lets out an extended fart, and then asks how fast the car can go, Tommy offers the only appropriate response, "Like the wind."

I am sure this film wasn't meant to be a Screwball Comedy, and there are many ways it differs from Screwball, but I could definitely sketch out a Venn diagram of the relationship between Home for the Holidays and the Screwball Comedy genre as I am coming to understand it.  It might be a very thin overlap, but a distinct and solid one.

Released: 1995
Writer: W. D. Richter (based on a short story by Chris Radant)
Director: Jodie Foster
Producer: Jodie Foster, Peggy Rajski
Leads: Holly Hunter, Charles Durning, Anne Bancroft, Dylan McDermott, Robert Downey Jr., Cynthia Stevenson, David Strathairn
Genre: Holiday, Dramedy
Plot Summary and reviews of Home for the Holidays @ Rotten Tomatoes