Jodie Foster's second film as director features a talented ensemble cast and an ambitious
W.D. Richter screenplay that attempts a comic treatment of family dysfunction. Chicago-based Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) has returned to Baltimore for Thanksgiving in desperate need of familial comfort: Claudia's just lost her job and discovered that her teen-age daughter (Claire Danes) intends to lose her virginity over the holiday. Unfortunately, the Larson family isn't a very comforting lot. Claudia's chain-puffing mother, Adele (Anne Bancroft), is always blowing smoke in her daughter's face and criticizing her life. Her slightly daft father, Henry (Charles Durning), putters compulsively and her gay brother, Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.), and his new "associate," Leo Fish (Dylan McDermott), put in an unexpected appearance. Rounding out the dinner table are Claudia's prissy sister, Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), Joanne's boring husband, Walter (Steve Guttenberg), and crazy Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin). Glady kicks off the mayhem by revealing her undying love for Henry, unrequited for 43 years. Tommy throws the turkey in Joanne's lap and dumps food on her head, but the revelation of Tommy's recent, very public, gay wedding ceremony is the real shocker: The other groom wasn't Leo, who's actually there to meet her. Foster seems uncertain whether she's engaging in an edgy dissection of '90s family life or simply updating "Capra-corn" for contemporary audiences, and Claudia isn't an easy character with whom to identify: Jean Arthur would never have left her daughter home alone on a family holiday. Robert Downey Jr.'s smugness and scatological ad-libs will alienate some viewers, but everyone can identify with Joanna all she wants is a nice Thanksgiving dinner where everyone behaves and no one gets food dumped on his or her head. Is that so wrong?
As usual, it's a lousy Thanksgiving. Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) has just lost her job; her teenage daughter (Claire Danes) is determined to lose her virginity; her intrusive parents (Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning) seem to have lost their minds. From a sharp,jaundiced script by W.D. Richter (BUCKAROO BANZAI), Jodie Foster has directed a poisoned paean to the great American tradition of torturous family gatherings. Granted, the Lawson family verges on caricature, from the acerbic gay son (Robert Downey Jr.) to dotty Aunt Gladys (Geraldine Chaplin). But
whose family doesn't, when the holiday chips are down?
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