There is a point in Jodie Foster's "Home for the Holidays" when a brother and his brother-in-law are fighting on the front lawn while the father tries to break it up by wetting them down with a garden hose. Looking across the street at the neighbors gawking, the father snarls, "Go back to your own goddamn holidays!"
The movie, which is about the Thanksgiving family reunion from hell, is not exactly a comedy and yet not a drama, either. Like many family reunions, it has a little of both elements, and the strong sense that madness is being held just out of sight. Have we not all, on our ways to family gatherings, parked the car a block away, taken several deep breaths, rubbed our eyes and massaged our temples, and driven on, gritting our teeth? That is not because we do not love our families, but because we know them so very, very well.
We get that sense in the opening scenes of "Home for the Holidays," as Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) discovers she has been fired from her job at a Chicago art museum, and responds by kissing her boss; she's already building up holiday hysteria. Claudia is driven to the airport by her teenage daughter Kitt (Claire Danes), who confides she will "probably" experience sex for the first time over the weekend. At the other end, she's greeted by her parents, Adele and Henry (Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning). Henry's taking a home video. Adele has brought along an extra parka in case Claudia has lost hers (she has).
The Larson family home is a triumph of art direction. It has been furnished with dozens if not thousands of the sorts of objects found in mail-order gift catalogs. Not expensive catalogs, but the kinds of catalogs with 16 gifts on each page, each one a "miniature" of something you would not possibly want the full-size version of, such as a reindeer or a barbershop quartet.