And here we have our third — and final — course of the Soundtrack Saturday Dysfunctional Family Thanksgiving. I decided to end our celebration of family, food, and fighting on a lighter note, so I give you one of my favorite movies of all time, Home for the Holidays (1995). I first saw it during my freshman year of college on the recommendation of a good friend who knew I had a thing for Robert Downey Jr. I absolutely loved it.
After acquiring it on videocassette, I started a tradition of watching it at least three times a week every holiday season starting on November 1, a tradition that has, for the most part, continued to this day (though I now watch it on DVD instead of cassette).
Watching a movie that much may seem excessive, but there was a period in my life when I was so stressed out during this time of the year — I was working in retail — that watching Home for the Holidays was like celluloid comfort food. I would watch it when I came home from work, before I went to bed, before I went to work — basically, whenever I needed calming down. I’d even say that watching this movie as much as I did during the most heinous time of the year for retail managers kept me from becoming an alcoholic.
The second film directed by Jodie Foster (1991’s Little Man Tate), Home for the Holidays introduces us to the eccentric Larson family and lets us peek into their dysfunctional lives during one hectic Thanksgiving.
First, we meet Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter). She’s just lost her job as an art restorer in a Chicago museum — and made out with her much older boss as he was firing her. Now she has to fly to Baltimore to spend Thanksgiving with her family, but without her teenage daughter (Claire Danes), who’s just told her mother that she and her boyfriend plan to have sex for the first time over the holiday weekend. To add insult to injury, Claudia is sick.
Upon her arrival at the Baltimore airport, we get our first glimpse of her parents, Henry (Charles Durning) and Adele (Anne Bancroft). We instantly feel Claudia’s pain as she endures her mother’s nagging, her father’s cluelessness — and both of her parents’ bickering — as soon as she gets off the plane.
Next, we meet Claudia’s hilarious — but at times annoyingly over-the-top — gay younger brother, Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.), and his friend/coworker, Leo Fish (Dylan McDermott), whom he’s brought with him to share in the craziness that is the Larson Family Thanksgiving. Of course, Claudia thinks Leo is “with” Tommy, which bothers her a great deal since she’s very taken with the man she thought Tommy was in a committed relationship with.
Then we meet Adele’s eccentric younger sister, Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin), who has more than 200 plants in her house and a “really big boil,” wears a necklace made of Fruit Loops, makes key lime pie topped with M&Ms, and has been harboring a secret love for Henry for more than 40 years.
Finally, we’re introduced to the “wonderful Wedmans”: Claudia and Tommy’s sister, Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson); her husband, Walter (Steve Guttenberg); and their two children, Brittany (Emily Ann Lloyd) and Walter Jr. (Zack Duhame). Joanne is the only Larson sibling who’s stayed behind in Baltimore, and she’s very bitter about it. She’s the most conservative of the bunch and the one who’s the least accepting of her siblings’ life choices — and she has no problem saying so.
The entire day is filled with fighting, crying, laughing, secrets, and turkeys flying through the air. Just like your Thanksgiving, right? As ridiculous as the Larsons and their antics may seem, I think they are, in many ways, representative of the typical family. And the issues they’re dealing with are the same issues we all deal with — acceptance, living up to expectations, aging, letting go.
On the DVD commentary, Foster says that she thinks Home for the Holidays resonates most with people who are 25-35, because the themes and issues the film deals with are most relevant to that age group. As a woman smack in the middle of that demographic, I tend to agree with her. Every year I find myself relating more and more to Claudia — not her specific situation, mind you, but the general familial challenges she faces in the film.
I could seriously go on and on about this movie. It’s my favorite of all the dysfunctional family-themed movies I love so much. From the incredible performances to the wonderful dialogue to Foster’s fantastic direction — there’s just so much to love.
And that brings us to the Home for the Holidays soundtrack, which is — of course — out of print. From opening credits to closing credits, every song and its placement in the film is well thought out and works perfectly.
We open with Rusted Root’s cover of Santana’s “Evil Ways,” which Foster says is meant to represent Claudia’s feelings toward her family: “Hey, if you don’t change your ways, I’m not going to love you anymore.” And we end with Big Brother & the Holding Company’s “Piece of My Heart,” which is meant to signify Claudia changing her mind about her family, because no matter how much they put her through, she’ll always love them.
In between, we’ve got an assortment of tracks as eclectic as the Larsons themselves, but what really holds Home for the Holidays together is Mark Isham’s lovely score. It parallels the film’s tone so well: serious, but lighthearted and funny as well. Foster likens it to a “Dixieland dirge” — music you would hear as people march up the street in a Dixieland funeral procession. I can’t think of a better description than that.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the three courses of Soundtrack Saturday: Dysfunctional Family Thanksgiving as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. I’m taking next week off to celebrate my own family’s (somewhat) dysfunctional holiday, but I’ll be back December 5. I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving, or at least a drunken one. And if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, go get drunk anyway.
Rusted Root — Evil Ways
Frank Sinatra — That’s Life
Nat ”King” Cole — Candy
Tom Jones — It’s Not Unusual
Isaac Hayes — Theme From Shaft
The Trashmen — Surfin’ Bird
Dinah Washington — Trouble in Mind
Beastie Boys — Pow
Nat ”King” Cole — The Very Thought of You
Big Brother & the Holding Company — Piece of My Heart