Terrible Title, Beautiful Film — Home for the Holidays by Sheldon Lee Compton

A movie’s title matters a great deal. I’ve heard it said very few times but watched it in action several. Back in the old, old days when you had to visit a video store to rent a movie if you didn’t feel like handing out twenty bucks at the theatre, the people employing this idea were numerous. They stood, knees locked, heads down, in aisle after aisle mumbling titles aloud to themselves at times. Braveheart? Get it. Fight Club? Absolutely get it. Now sadly, the movie I’m talking about today would have never, and did hardly ever, pass this title test.

Home for the Holidays? A big bag of nope. And because of this, many missed a really cool film.

Home for the Holidays is a 1995 comedy-drama directed by Jodie Foster and starring Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Dylan McDermott, and Anne Bancroft, among numerous others.

Before starting my next sentence, I went briefly to Wikipedia to refresh myself on this movie. I’ve watched it some four or five times and expected a pleasant experience. Wikipedia usually gives me a pleasant experience. That did not happen. The plot breakdown failed miserably to bring across the small strokes of comedic brilliance. So then, the Wikipedia entry for this movie is exactly the same as its horrible rotted title, saying nothing about the nuanced comedy at play throughout.

To start with, Robert Downey Jr., who at this time was seriously considering giving up his profession as an actor due to burnout and, well, you know, drugs and stuff, was given a nearly blank slate for a script. Foster, very wisely, allowed RDJ to improvise his way through his lines. The below scene is of RDJ’s character Tommy arriving at the family home, a surprise to the rest of the family as he had told them he wouldn’t be there.

Rewatching it now, it occurs to me that nearly everyone in this scene is working at high levels, especially Charles Durning, who plays RDJ and Hunter’s father.

It’s a shame someone didn’t speak up and say the name of the film was terrible and horrible and  embarrassingly so. Maybe a best grip or Hunter’s on-set assistant. Anyone. Maybe no one wanted to step up to director Jodie Foster and speak the truth. Giving truth to power is one of the hardest things to do. But come on. Home for the Holidays?

But even with this huge problem, the film holds up beautifully. I’ll leave you with one more scene and one more word of encouragement to find this movie and watch it as soon as you can. If nothing else, you can see the rebirth of RDJ, now one of the world’s biggest megastars. Well, it happened in this tiny little private project.

Sheldon Lee Compton

Sheldon Lee Compton is a novelist, short story writer, editor, and columnist. He is the author of three books – the collections The Same Terrible Storm (Foxhead Books, 2012), Where Alligators Sleep (Foxhead Books, 2014), and the novel Brown Bottle (Bottom Dog Press, 2016). In 2012, he was a finalist for both the Gertrude Stein Fiction Award and the Still Fiction Award. The Same Terrible Storm was nominated for the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for Excellence in Appalachian Writing, while his short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best of the Web, and cited in Best Small Fictions 2015 and Best Small Fictions 2016, guest edited by Robert Olen Butler and Stuart Dybek, respectively. Other writing has appeared in the anthologies Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia (Bottom Dog Press, 2010), Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Meditations on the Forbidden from Contemporary Appalachia (Ohio University Press, 2015), and Larry Fessenden’s Sudden Storm: A Wendigo Reader (Fiddleblack, 2016). He is the past founder and editor of four literary journals and is currently the founding editor of the online flash fiction journal The Airgonaut.






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