Released in November 1995 to mixed reviews and disappointing box office numbers, Jodie Foster's second film Home for the Holidays is more than past due for a reevaluation. One of its only weaknesses is the title, which instantly brings to mind a lukewarm Hallmark production that would probably use Perry Como's song at the end credits. It's certainly not the former and (thankfully) doesn't resort to the latter; instead, it's a well-acted comedy/drama with a deep ensemble cast, solid direction, and a knack for capturing great little moments in the midst of unbridled family chaos.
Our story follows Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter, an obvious stand-in for Foster), who's just been fired from the only job she's ever loved due to budget cuts. It's a day or two before Thanksgiving and too late to cancel her flight from Chicago to the Larson family gathering in Baltimore. She's sick with the flu, stunned from the firing, and travelling alone since teenage daughter Kitt (Claire Danes, in an early film role) is staying with her boyfriend's family. She's instantly put under the thumb of parents Adele (Anne Bancroft) and Henry (Charles Durning), but is looking forward to seeing brother Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.) and his boyfriend Jack (Sam Slovick). Instead, Tommy shows up with Leo (Dylan McDermott), who Claudia initially resents. Things get worse as more relatives arrive, including eccentric Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin), stuck-up sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), and her husband Walter (Steve Guttenberg).
Though it often borders on sitcom horseplay and occasionally goes for the easy gags, Home for the Holidays does a remarkable job toeing the line between uncomfortable realism and moving drama. Drawn from a terrific screenplay by W.D. Richter (better known for co-writing Big Trouble in Little China and directing The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension), the film molds a raw, organic narrative out of pandemonium. Little details and moments are absolutely everywhere during Home for the Holidays, delivered by well-drawn characters that could've been one-dimensional in the wrong hands. According to an included audio commentary by Foster, cast members added their own family quirks to the characters, and Robert Downey Jr. (unfortunately, during a rather bleak period in his life) was allowed to improvise his dialogue to great effect. It's obvious that Home for the Holidays started as one thing and became another; luckily, the end result feels as natural, bittersweet, and touching as it needs to.
Home for the Holidays made an early appearance on DVD back in 2001, and was reissued three years ago after the original disc went out-of-print. Luckily, Shout Factory finally brings the film to Blu-ray as part of its "Select" line, which offers a solid A/V presentation and two worthwhile bonus features from the DVD...plus a new one, but it's nothing to get excited about. Though it's a little disappointing that Home for the Holidays didn't get nearly as much love as most other titles in the company's catalog, any upgrade for an overlooked film is certainly welcome in my book.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
I don't own MGM's out-of-print 2001 DVD (or the 2014 re-release, most likely the same disc) and thus can't speak about their quality, but 16 years and a bump to 1080p will obviously yield improvements. Unless that original disc was ahead of its time, Shout Factory's presentation of Home for the Holidays looks to have been taken from a recent and well-treated master; this 1.85:1 transfer follows suit with a clean and stable image that's largely free of digital imperfections such as interlacing, compression artifacts, and excessive noise reduction. Image detail and textures are pleasing (especially during outdoor scenes), the natural color palette holds up nicely, light grain is present, and black levels are consistent from start to finish. Die-hard fans will be pleased, especially those ready to retire their DVDs.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional stills on this page are decorative and do not represent the title under review.
Likewise, the default DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track (also available as lossless 2.0 Stereo, which is likely closer to its theatrical roots) makes the most of its source material, with a largely front-loaded sound stage that expands into the rear channels during a few key moments. Either way, Home for the Holidays sounds as good as expected for the genre with crisp dialogue and well-balanced effects and music, not to mention decent separation that handles many of the busy and chaotic conversations quite well. (Since the last time I saw Home for the Holidays was on VHS about 20 years ago, some of the conversations make a lot more sense now.) Low end is limited but occasionally noticeable, mostly during music cues. Optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The main interface is presented in Shout's typical style with smooth, simple navigation and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. Separate options are provided for chapter selection, subtitle/audio setup, and bonus feature access. This one-disc release comes in a standard keepcase with artwork that replicates the original poster design.
Both extras from MGM's 2001 DVD
are thankfully ported over; the first and best is a feature-length Audio Commentary
with director Jodie Foster. It's a fantastic and extremely insightful track and, though a few gaps of silence are present, she comes fully prepared to talk about a film that obviously means a great deal to her personally. Also carried over is the film's Theatrical Trailer
, which captures some of its spirit but unfortunately plays it more as a wacky comedy.
New to this release is a rather substantial Image Gallery (7:19), which moves though nearly 100 promotional stills and behind-the-scenes photos at a steady clip. Even so, it's disappointing that the usually reliable Shout Factory couldn't include more new bonus features for this disc, such as cast interviews or even a reunion commentary.
The underrated Home for the Holidays is perhaps Jodie Foster's best film...or, according to the audio commentary, at least the one she's most happy with. It's aged quite well thanks to great performances from the ensemble cast, smart direction, and a wonderful screenplay by W.D. Richter that's complemented by obvious care from the cast and crew. I hadn't seen it in years but will most likely watch it at least once every November, which is more the enough reason to consider Shout Factory's new Blu-ray worth picking up. It's got a great A/V presentation and, while the extras are sadly a bit limited, the inclusion of Foster's commentary is almost enough by itself. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.