The film stars Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Geraldine Chaplin, Steve Guttenberg, Cynthia Stevenson, Claire Danes, Austin Pendleton and David Strathairn.
Claudia Larson, a single mom who has just been fired from her job as an art restorer due to budget cuts, flies from Chicago to spend Thanksgiving at the Baltimore home of her parents, Adele and Henry Larson, while her only child Kitt decides to stay home and spend the holiday with her boyfriend. As she is dropping her mother off at the airport, Kitt informs Claudia that she intends to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time while she’s gone. While on the plane, Claudia makes a phone call to Tommy, her younger brother and confidant who she believes won’t be attending the Thanksgiving dinner, telling him that she lost her job, made out with her boss, and knows that her daughter is going to sleep with her boyfriend.
When Claudia arrives at the airport, she is greeted by her parents, who drive her to their home and help her unpack. Claudia remarks that she’s thinking of looking into new careers, and her mother concludes that Claudia lost her job, which she initially denies. That night, Tommy arrives with his new friend Leo Fish, who Claudia believes to be his boyfriend. Claudia is glad to see her brother, but fears that he and Jack, his boyfriend, broke up.
The next day, more family members arrive, including their eccentric Aunt Glady (Adele’s sister), who brings more than two hundred plants with her. While returning home after picking up groceries, Claudia runs into a girl she used to go to school with. As Claudia doesn’t want to mention her divorce, Leo poses as Claudia’s husband. The next family member to arrive is Claudia's resentful, conservative sister, Joanne Larson Wedman, accompanied by her stuffy banker brother-in-law Walter and their two spoiled children.
On Thanksgiving Day, a series of mishaps occur. Aunt Glady professes her love for Henry, and Tommy accidentally spills the turkey all over Joanne. Joanne, in turn, reveals to everyone that Tommy married his boyfriend Jack in a beach wedding several months before. Their parents are hurt that they weren’t told, and Adele retreats to a hidden room by the kitchen, where Claudia attempts to console her.
After the meal, Tommy, Leo, Walter, and the children play football while Henry washes the Wedmans’ car. When the football hits the car, however, Walter shoves Tommy onto the ground and threatens him. Henry sprays them with water, and the Wedmans jump into the car and leave, soapsuds and all.
The family returns inside, where they talk for a while. Kitt calls Claudia to say that she’s fine and she’s decided not to sleep with her boyfriend. The phone rings a second time, and Henry answers; it turns out to be Jack calling. Before handing the phone over to Tommy, Henry says that he’s happy for both of them.
Adele insists that Claudia and Leo drive Aunt Glady home, then deliver leftovers to Joanne’s family. Claudia goes down to the Wedmans’ basement, where Joanne is exercising, to talk to her. Joanne says, “If I just met you on the street...if you gave me your phone number, I’d throw it away.” Claudia responds "We don’t have to like each other, Jo. We’re family."
On the drive home, Leo tells Claudia that Tommy showed him a picture of her, and he came to Thanksgiving to meet her. The two talk for a while in the living room at her parents’ house; but Tommy, who is sleeping on the floor, wakes up and reminds Leo that they have to get an early start in the morning. Claudia retreats upstairs to her room; Leo follows her, but is unable to persuade her to let him in.
Early the next morning, Claudia wakes up and sees Tommy and Leo driving away. She goes downstairs and reminisces with her father for a while, before being taken to the airport and getting on her plane. Before the plane takes off, Leo gets in the seat next to her, and they fly back to Chicago together.Holly Hunter as Claudia Larson
Robert Downey Jr. as Tommy Larson
Anne Bancroft as Adele Larson
Claire Danes as Kitt Larson
Charles Durning as Henry Larson
Dylan McDermott as Leo Fish
Austin Pendleton as Peter Arnold
Geraldine Chaplin as Aunt Glady
Steve Guttenberg as Walter Wedman
Cynthia Stevenson as Joanne Larson Wedman
David Strathairn as Russell Terziak
Screenwriter W. D. Richter adapted a short story by Chris Radant that appeared in the Boston Phoenix. Executive producer Stuart Kleinman sent Jodie Foster the screenplay with a note that said, "It's a complete mess and I love it." Foster agreed and decided that it would be her second directorial effort (the first was Little Man Tate). Castle Rock Films was originally going to finance the film but canceled. Foster's own production company, Egg Productions, acquired Richter's screenplay. She struck a deal with Paramount Pictures to distribute the film theatrically and PolyGram Filmed Entertainment to handle the international rights and domestic video and pay TV. These rights now belong to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer through their acquisition of PolyGram's pre-1996 library.
Foster said, "The great challenge was to find a beautiful idea to pull through it, a narrative line that would make the story work." Foster met with Richter and together they brainstormed and "had great fun thinking up new details and lives and clearing up the relationships," Foster remembers. They worked on the script so that the film reflected Foster's point of view and her own life experiences. She showed the first draft to Holly Hunter who agreed to star after reading it. Working with a $20 million budget, Foster spent ten weeks filming in Baltimore with a two-week rehearsal period. She used this time to get input from the actors about dialogue. If a scene of speech did not ring true, she wanted to know. She picked the city because it was the "prototype of the American city. It's dangerous, east coasty, urban. Yet it still has a hopeful quality to it." Principal photography began February 1995. Filming of the Thanksgiving dinner took more than ten days, using 64 turkeys, 20 pounds of mashed potatoes, 35 pounds of stuffing, 44 pies, 30 pounds of sweet potatoes, 18 bags of mini-marshmallows and 50 gallons of juice that stood in for wine. Foster allowed Robert Downey Jr. to improvise, which got him excited about making films again after a period of time where he became disillusioned with acting.
- Rusted Root - "Evil Ways" 4:03
- Mark Isham - "Holiday Blues" 4:46
- Nat King Cole - "Candy" 3:51
- Tom Jones - "It's Not Unusual" 2:01
- Mark Isham - "Blue Nights" 9:25
- Mark Isham - "Birth of the Cool Whip" 2:53
- Dinah Washington - "Trouble in Mind" 2:50
- Mark Isham - "Late Night Blues" 4:59
- Mark Isham - "Medley of the Very Thought of You/With Us Alone" 2:42
- Ray Noble - "The Very Thought of You" 4:25
- Nat King Cole - "The Very Thought of You" 3:47
- Janis Joplin - "Piece of My Heart" 4:14
Home for the Holidays was released on November 3, 1995 in 1,000 theaters and grossed US$4 million in its opening weekend. It went on to make $17.5 million in North America.
The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics with a 62% rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a 56 metascore at Metacritic. In his three and half star review, Roger Ebert praised Foster's ability to direct "the film with a sure eye for the revealing little natural moment," and Downey's performance that "brings out all the complexities of a character who has used a quick wit to keep the world's hurts at arm's length." Janet Maslin, in her review for The New York Times, praised Holly Hunter's performance: "Displaying a dizziness more mannered than the cool, crisp intelligence she shows in Copycat, Ms. Hunter still holds together Home for the Holidays with a sympathetic performance." In his review for the Boston Globe, Jay Carr praised the film for being "filled with juicy performances that expand resourcefully beyond what we think are going to be their boundaries, the film carries us beyond our expectations. That's what makes it so pleasurable."
USA Today gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "Home has the usual hellish ritual. They come, they eat, they argue, they leave. It's the stuffing in-between that makes it special." However, in her review for the Washington Post, Rita Kempley criticized some of the performances: "Downey brings a lot of energy to the role, but his antics can be both tedious and distracting. Hunter has a lovely scene with her disgruntled sister, but there's no time for that relationship to develop, what with a romantic interest yet to explore." In his review for Rolling Stone magazine, Peter Travers had problems with the screenplay: "It's a shame that W.D. Richter's un-Disney-ish script often slides into shrill stereotypes and sitcom silliness."