New Films: Home for the Holidays

Director: Jodie Foster. Starring: Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr, Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning (15)

A supposedly cockle-warming seasonal comedy, centred around Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter), who loses her job just before she's due to fly home for Thanksgiving. Predictably, the family homestead offers not consolation but distraction, in the form of Claudia's bizarre relatives. These include her annoyingly manic brother, Tommy (Robert Downey Jr), who arrives with Leo (Dylan McDermott), who may or may not be his lover; her emotional and slightly demented Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin); her squabbling parents (Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning); and her prissy, bigoted sister, Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson). The latter lights the fuse and instigates the family arguments which are as much a part of seasonal cheer as the bloated turkey.

The film has more than its fair share of sourly comic episodes that could have been lifted from Parenthood or Spring and Port Wine. What it doesn't have is any degree of insight or sympathy for its characters - it's left entirely to the cast to redeem these ciphers of eccentricity.

They do a creditable job. You may feel like putting Robert Downey Jr's head in a vice as revenge for his frenzied performance here, but the film badly needs the voltage he brings to it. Hunter is mostly sympathetic, and as sure of comedy as she was in Raising Arizona - something which has been forgotten since The Piano.

The film is only really touching during Geraldine Chaplin's superb dinner- table scene, as this apparently senile woman locates a memory of startling clarity at the back of her mind. It's the role which offers the most opportunity for indulgence, but Chaplin's playing is subtle and sweet.

That aside, Home for the Holidays feels curiously cold for a film which is striving to be feel-good. It's as blank and uninvolving as sitting through someone else's home movies.

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