If you’re looking for an intimate, immersive filmgoing experience, there’s cinema verité – then there’s 1995's Home for the Holidays.
In place of the shaky handheld camera and improvised dialogue that the cinema verité auteur employs to put the viewer in the room with the film’s participants, Home for the Holidays director Jodie Foster makes use of superb acting, an uncommon patience in pacing, and lean screenplay.
The resulting depth, pathos, easy humor, and vivid relatability make Home for the Holidays a seasonal must-watch for so many.
An abundance of acting talent
Director Jodie Foster and casting director Avy Kaufman stocked the cinematic sideboard with a mouth-watering banquet of acting talent – from veterans of stage and screen like Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, and Geraldine Chaplin to talents on the rise, like Robert Downey Jr., Holly Hunter, and David Strathairn.
It’s the ease with which these actors draw us in – even as they poke, prod, and snipe at one another – that transports us from the dark theater to our own holiday tables and stirs up the complex emotions that go hand in hand with gathering every year as a family.
You might see something familiar in the way that the happy-go-lucky, somewhat oblivious Henry Larson (Durning) sweeps his wife off her feet in an impromptu dance; or in the reflexive battle stance of beleaguered sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson). But whether or not their personalities remind us of our own family, we can relate to the feelings and relationship dynamics of all these characters. Foster’s empathy for all of them is contagious – though just as in real life, there is no neat resolution in time for the closing credits.
An understated but impactful approach
Still, there’s enough wit and heart in the screenplay, and in the performances, to really relish our time with the Larsons – especially the mischievous and kinetic Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.) and the hopelessly scattered Claudia. And it’s not just the acting talent that stands out. So many aspects of the film are elegantly understated but revelatory – the masterful editing by Lynzee Klingman, the costume design by Norfolk CT’s own Susan Lyall, and W.D. Richter’s crisp screenplay.
There are misunderstandings, poignant moments, suggestions of loneliness, and bursts of chaotic behavior – not to mention the kooky lamp-gifting and dinner-table love proclamations of Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin).
But this is not a film about the most dramatic day in the life of any of these characters. It’s not a run on the family bank that threatens its solvency, or a pack of destructive little monsters running rampant over the town. This is a simple tale of a family whose dynamics have changed as they’ve grown into their own people.