“Home for the Holidays” is a 1995 film written by W. D. Richter (based on a story by Chris Radant) and directed by Jodie Foster. It’s about a woman named Claudia (Holly Hunter) who loses her art restoration job at a museum before going from Chicago to Baltimore to spend Thanksgiving with her family. Her parents, played by Anne Bancroft (who is fantastic) and Charles Durning, are well-meaning but kind of suffocating and not super attuned to what’s going on with their children. Her brother, Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.), is gay and seems to use immature humor as a coping mechanism while with his family. His longtime boyfriend isn’t with him and Claudia assumes this means they’ve broken up. Instead of his boyfriend, he brings some guy he works with named Leo Fish (Dylan McDermott), home. Claudia assumes they are together and treats Leo with a heavy dose of skepticism. Claudia and Tommy’s sister, Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson) is a super judgmental homophobe who is unhappy with her life and treats everyone else like garbage as a result. Family tensions collide at Thanksgiving dinner, but there is of course a happy ending. It turns out that Leo is not Tommy’s boyfriend, but a friend who saw a picture of Claudia and wanted to meet her. The movie ends with Leo boarding Claudia’s flight back to Chicago and asking if they can spend more time together. We also find out that Tommy is actually married to his longtime boyfriend but didn’t want to subject him to the madness of his family at Thanksgiving. It’s one of those movies that is not super compelling plot-wise but has a lot of great, small moments thanks in great part to the cast. It’s also fun to see actors like Claire Danes, who plays Claudia’s daughter, and Steve Guttenberg, who plays Joanne’s husband, pop up briefly.
“Happiest Season” is a 2020 film written by Mary Holland (based on a story by Clea DuVall, who also directed). It’s about a Pittsburgh couple named Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) who have been dating for a while and decide to spend Christmas together for the first time. Harper invites Abby, whose parents are both dead, to her family’s house but neglects to mention that they don’t know she’s gay until they are already en route. Not only does she ask Abby to pretend they’re just roommates, she also requests that she pretend to be straight. As you can imagine, this creates several toxic, uncomfortable scenarios for Abby, who spends most of the movie floundering around, neglected, while Harper panders to her pretentious, narcissistic parents (played by Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber), fights with her competitive sister (Alison Brie), and flirts with her ex-boyfriend (Jake McDorman) who shows up everywhere. Abby’s only allies are her hilarious friend, John (Dan Levy), and Riley (Aubrey Plaza), one of Harper’s high school ex-girlfriends who was also damaged by her dishonesty. Despite the total shit show that Abby is forced to endure, Harper does eventually come out to her parents and the film ends with everyone magically happy and smiling one year later. Harper and Abby are engaged and the whole blended family (including John) is at the movies together as some horribly cheesy song plays.
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