Surviving Thanksgiving with the family


Coming to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Friday, Nov. 29, “Home for the Holidays” gives renewed meaning to the term dysfunctional when it comes to annual family gatherings.

This 1995 dark comedy is based on a short story by humorist Chris Radant, who moved to West Tisbury in 2011 to be near her daughter, Cynthia Hatt. Ms. Radant will attend Friday’s screening to discuss how her work became a successful film. The film, which continues to appear on TV and airplane menus, has touched a chord with so many filmgoers over the years that Ms. Radant still receives fan mail.

“Every year it gets a little bit of a stir,” she said. Originally published as “Home for the Holidays and Other Calamities,” the short story on which the movie was based was reissued in 2010 as part of an anthology, “The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays.” Other authors in the collection include Calvin Trillin, Billy Collins, George Plimpton, and David Sedaris.

Director Jodie Foster assembled a star-studded cast headed by Holly Hunter as Claudia Larson, a Chicago art restorer who loses her job and is reluctantly heading home to Baltimore for Thanksgiving. Her daughter, Kitt, played by a 16-year-old Claire Danes with pre-“Homeland” brown hair and bipolar-free brain, decides not to accompany her mother. She announces that instead she plans to lose her virginity over the holiday weekend. Can life get worse for Claudia? Wait ’til you meet the rest of the family.

Claudia’s parents Adele (Anne Bancroft) and Henry (Charles Durning) prove to be middling oddballs, but Claudia’s gay brother, Tommy, played with all the stops pulled out by Robert Downey Jr., takes the cake for eccentric hyperactivity. Tommy doesn’t know the meaning of boundaries, taking photos of his sister in the shower and bringing along an uninvited guest in the form of his business partner Leo (Dylan McDermott), whose sexual orientation remains unclear for much of the movie. Character actor David Strathairn shows up in a cameo as Russell, Claudia’s sad-sack would-be boyfriend.

Claudia’s sister Joanne (Cynthia Stephenson), her banker husband Walter (Steve Guttenberg), and their two children are terrorized by Tommy, who leaps onto their car like a crazed beast when they arrive. As the only conventional members of the extended Larson family, they do not feel comfortable with Tommy’s sexual status. Since the family’s last gathering, Tommy has married his boyfriend in Boston, but none of the family was invited to the wedding. Tommy doesn’t bring his spouse along for this holiday gathering either, leaving everyone, including the viewers, a little confused. Adele’s sister, Glady (Geraldine Chaplin), brings up the rear as the maiden aunt from hell, who still carries a torch for Henry.

While this unholy cast of characters bumps against one another during the holiday, a distracted Claudia watches relatively unscathed. A barrage of food mishaps and other sight gags occur, including a horrifying turkey launch.

That old cliché, “everybody’s crazy except me,” gets a vigorous workout in “Home for the Holidays.” Viewers will either guffaw at the gags or roll their eyes at the sheer awfulness of the Larson family.

During her career as an advertising copywriter, Ms. Radant wrote humor on the side, regularly passing her stories around to friends. A screenwriter happened to see “Home for the Holidays” and the rest is history.

Ms. Radant says she likes to work at the corner of tender and hilarious. “I actually did take notes under the table on Thanksgiving Day,” she said. “I knew on some level it was hilarious. While I used my family as a template, I took all kinds of liberties.” Once her story was adapted for film, she lobbied to work on the film and was hired as a set production assistant. She will share her experiences on the set at the screening.

The Film Center will be closed on Thanksgiving Day.

“Home for the Holidays,” Friday, Nov. 29, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. With Chris Radant. $12; $9 M.V. Film Society members; $7 children 14 and under. For tickets and information, visit