Season's gratings: Film reviews

Home for the Holidays Jodie Foster (15) Jingle All the Way Brian Levant (PG) By Adam Mars-Jones

John Hughes' 1987 film Planes, Trains and Automobiles may not be your idea of perfection in cinema, but it certainly seems to lurk behind two of this week's releases, with its frantic misanthropic comedy giving way bit by bit to endorsement of every possible traditional value.

Home for the Holidays is structured round the same festival, Thanksgiving, and tells the story of Chicago-based Claudia (Holly Hunter) visiting her family in Baltimore. Holly Hunter has yet to give a poor performance, and conveys a distinctive mixture of determination and disconnection in her character. Thanksgiving is rendered traumatic in advance by the fact that she has been fired from her job as a picture restorer - and we may share her sense of outrage at the disruption of her career, having sat through the long and careful montage of her at work with which director Jodie Foster starts the film. What was that all about?

About cracks and surfaces, perhaps. Claudia's daughter is staying in Chicago, and as she delivers Mom to the airport announces that she will be shedding her virginity, in a mature and responsible fashion, in a matter of hours. This news intensifies Claudia's tendency to regress when she gets home, to fight battles that had seemed long over.

Perhaps we should be grateful in a season of compulsory sweetness for the sourness of tone that marks the film's first two-thirds, but it seems a formulaic sort of disillusion. Claudia's mother (Anne Bancroft) is a chain-smoking motor-mouth who is both insensitive and irritatingly intuitive about what's going on. Dad (Charles Durning) divides his time between furtively raiding the fridge, playing the organ, and romancing his wife as if they were honeymooners.

Aunt Glady is a flatulent eccentric who confesses her love for her brother- in-law in the middle of the festive meal. It's somehow painful to see Geraldine Chaplin reduced to playing this cartoonish and graceless role. Meanwhile, Claudia's brother Tommy (Robert Downey Jr) is getting on everyone's nerves with his practical jokes and a handsome friend who seems to be his new boyfriend - though the family has accepted his longstanding relationship with the absent Jack.

Unusually for its genre, Home for the Holidays (written by WD Richter from a story by Chris Radant) is determinedly gay-friendly. The environment that actually looks welcoming is not the hysterical bustle of Baltimore, nor the high-toned gloom of the house in Chicago where Claudia's daughter is staying, but the Boston interior from which Tommy's lover Jack speaks on the phone.

"How's my real family?" asks Tommy, which might be charming if he wasn't an utter pain in his own right. But then the family mellowing sets in, as inevitable as slush following snow. Claudia's mother stops being crazed, for no reason, and starts to make sense. It turns out, even, that Tommy has come home in response to a desperate appeal from Sis, so that his relentless barracking presence is his nightmare version of being there for her.

The plot benefits from this revelation, since it means that the seasonal hunk Tommy has brought with him is not spoken for and indeed not gay. By the time everything has turned around, and everybody proves to have a fragile remembered moment that redeems all the heartbreak, it's as if the director has measured out exactly the dosage of alkali to cancel out the acid that went before. Home for the Holidays ends up being as neutral as water - but nowhere near as useful.

Jingle All the Way, the Schwarzenegger vehicle for this Christmas, deals with one of the new varieties of anger: not road rage but shopping mall rage, toy shop trauma. A huge Minneapolis workaholic with an Austrian accent is so neglectful of his family that he tells his wife, by pure professional reflex, that she's his No 1 customer. After a previous failure of fatherly love, he promised to buy his son a Turbo Man doll for Christmas. Now it's Christmas Eve, and he's only just remembered the promise.

The screenplay, by Randy Kornfield, is presumably the work of someone who spent hours one December scouring the shops for mutant turtles, or a weird blue hedgehog, or the plastic celebrity Turbo Man most closely resembles, Buzz Lightyear (with a touch of the Power Rangers). Jingle All the Way sets out to parody the commercialisation of childhood, while also fastening a tow-rope securely to the back of Santa's sleigh. Whenever the action flags, director Brian Levant throws in another novelty Yuletide song.

When the hero refers to the elusive toy as a "doll", he is corrected by the crazed postal worker also searching for the toy who is the film's most likeable character, played by a performer called simply Sinbad. Turbo Man isn't a doll. He's an action figure (which, by a strange coincidence, is what it says in the "profession" box of Schwarzenegger's passport).

To make the hero seem loving and functional despite his pathological neglectfulness, the script sets up an apparently admirable father and house husband as his neighbour. Ted (Phil Hartman) buys the presents in good time, puts up the decorations, and is always ready with a flask of egg nog. But he is not just hands-on as a father. He specialises in the seduction of women whose husbands don't seem to care.

Jingle All the Way sets out to recapitulate the big-guy-interacting-with- kids fun of Kindergarten Cop, but inevitably reverts to Schwarzenegger's home genre of action for the finale. Turbo Man puts in a personal appearance at a winter fair, and guess who ends up inside the super-Lycra of heroism? It would be nice to feel that there is irony in a plot resolution whereby a father redeems himself by living up to the moral values of a plastic toy. But No Sale on that. Turbo Man sold out in November, and irony never even reached the shelves.

Jingle All the Way is seasonal, sure, but so is black ice. What kind of loving father is it anyway who for all his incessant "I'm sorry, Chamie" and "I love you, Chamie," never seems to realise that his son's name starts with a J? n

All films reviewed open tomorrow

Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tvReview: Too often The Casual Vacancy resembled a jumble of deleted scenes from Hot Fuzz
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David performs in his play ‘Fish in the Dark'
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Jemima West in Channel 4's Indian Summers (Joss Barratt/Channel 4)
tvReview: More questions and plot twists keep viewers guessing
Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003