Movie & Menu: Home for the Holidays (1995)

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. My mother is a wonderful cook. I have fond memories of the house smelling amazing all day long and delicious holiday meals.

We never had an annual, large family gathering for Thanksgiving. It was typically small, just the four of us and my grandparents (and sometimes my Dad was working, so the day’s schedule worked around whether he would be home). There were one or two times we travelled to see family (and those road trips are memorable for various other reasons), but for the most part we did a low-key holiday. It wasn’t until I started dating E that I experienced another family’s holiday get-together. E’s extended family travels to Northern California every other year to spend Thanksgiving weekend together. The first time I attended it was a whirlwind: over a dozen family members under one roof. I was not as emotionally prepared as I needed to be. I managed to find a quiet spot to hide at one point and called my mother. I missed hanging out in the kitchen with her, observing how she managed to make it all come together and helping when I could. After spending several Thanksgivings with E’s family, I now know what to expect and understand how many other families often experience this holiday. This week is another one of the big family Thanksgivings. After having been in work mode for most of this month, I sat down to watch Home for the Holidays in an effort to get in the Thanksgiving spirit.

Directed by Jodie Foster, Home for the Holidays is a playful family drama and very much a ’90s movie: back when your parents could meet you at the airport gate as you walked off a plane. Claudia (played by Holly Hunter) has a rough day before her Thanksgiving trip to visit her family. She’s lost her job and her teenage daughter (Claire Danes) is staying home to spend the holiday with her boyfriend. Claudia is not looking forward to spending the weekend with her parents. She confesses her current misery in a call to her brother Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr) on the flight home. Remember those giant airplane phones? Yep, more 90’s nostalgia for you.

This film hosts another wonderful ensemble cast. Besides Hunter, Danes and Downey, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Steve Guttenberg and Cynthia Stevenson fill out the family members. Geraldine Chaplin is the kooky aunt (we all have one, or several). The legendary Anne Bancroft plays Claire’s mother. How I miss her presence on-screen these days.

I’m drawn to ensemble casts. Interesting staging and playing with dialogue are typically key elements to the directing. In Home for the Holiday, Foster does this well during the main event: the Thanksgiving dinner scene. Emotions rise and fall, moving from awkwardness, to comedy, to that frustration we’ve all felt with our family before. Momentum builds with each scene. One scene quickly leads to another. Family members pair off in different ways and there’s no place to escape or be alone. Adults act in childish ways. Bitterness lies under the surface and compromises must be found through the tension. You’re all under the same roof for these few hours, love it or hate it. This is family. homefortheholidays

These holiday get-togethers pressure us to have it “together”. Let’s be honest here: none of us know what we’re doing with our lives. We’re all trying in our own way. We’re all making mistakes along the way too. None of us are perfect. And while this movie may not be perfect either, Home for the Holidays reminds us how Thanksgiving brings out the best and worst of our messy lives. We can be mean to family because they are just that, family. It takes work to be around siblings, parents, aunts and uncles and yet, the holidays are supposed to be a break from work. It is one of life’s great oxymorons.

Family takes different shapes and forms. It is having each other in life despite differences or frustrations. Deep down there’s love and understanding – even on those occasions when you have to dig really deep. Whatever your family, it offers community and belonging, just as you are. At the risk of being too warm and fuzzy, I must say, that’s something to be thankful for.

Whether or not you’re spending Thanksgiving with crazy family members or quietly binge-watching your favorite show after the parade & dog show, I hope you’ll have a slice of turkey and a holiday treat. Enjoy the moment before the real madness begins (aka Christmas).

Below is a recipe for a dip I made the first time I spent Thanksgiving with E’s family and away from my home. I figured with caramelized onions, cheese AND bacon, how could I not win them over?

Do you spend your Thanksgiving with lots of family or find a quiet escape? What’s your favorite Thanksgiving meal? What shows or movies get you in the Thanksgiving spirit? Please share in the comments!

Caramelized Onion, Gruyére & Bacon spread
Recipe from Cooking Light, Nov. 2011

Serves 8
Serve with crackers or bread.

Cooking spray
3 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded and divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
1/3 cup canola mayonnaise
1/3 cup fat-free sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan lightly with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low; cook 20 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

3. Reserve 2 tablespoons cheese. Combine remaining cheese, caramelized onion, 1 tablespoon chives, and the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Transfer the mixture to a 1-quart glass or ceramic baking dish coated lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle with reserved 2 tablespoons cheese. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon chives.

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
– Home for the Holidays on iTunes.
– Or even better, support your local video store!

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