Jodie Foster's second film as director was given a bit of a pasting by the critics, slightly unfairly I think. This family comedy/drama
stars the wonderful Holly Hunter as the only sane member of a chaotic family reunion. Bancroft and Durning are her loving, eccentrically dotty parents, Downey Jr
her beloved, flamboyant, gay brother who turns up with a strange man who may or not be his latest lover. Chaplin is her compltely batty aunt.
The film opens with Hunter losing her job as a picture restorer and her level headed 16 year old daughter Danes calmly announcing she plans to sleep with her boyfriend. Soon Hunter is within the loving bosom of her crazy family through Thanksgiving. There are the expected rows and food and insult throwing sessions as they all try to survive a weekend together.
Hunter is the centre of the film. We see things from her point of view, and she is sweet and sympathetic. She plays it just right as the other actors go wild around her. Downey Jr is manic-as usual. Maybe he'll be a calmer actor after rehab? He acts as if he is in a farce, very over the top. Bancroft is another extravert actress, all wide gestures and extreme expressions, Durning seems unsure whether his character is sane or not for much of the film- as we are. Poor Geraldine Chaplin gets to fart and tell an embarrassing anecdote. If this chaos is what Foster was aiming for, then it works. Hunter and Mulrooney are indeed an oasis of common sense in this madcap family. But it is excessive. There is no subtlety at all. The script is amusing enough without being hilarious.
The beginning and end of the film are worth mentioning. The opening credits play across Hunter at work restoring a canvas. There is a good song playing on her walkman and the colours and textures and Hunter herself create a strong opening impression.
The end has a sepia-slow motion replay of events the characters discussed during the film. Downey's gay wedding, Chaplin's kiss with her brother-in-law, Hunter and Mulrooney's date. It is unneccessary, spelling out events already descibed in detail. A pointless sequence that is supposed to finish things off on a nice nostalgic note, but is simply soppy.
This film is a bit of a mess to be honest. Is it just a how-to-survive-families comedy or a you-don't-have-to-like-them-but-you-love-them examination of family relationships? Foster seems unsure, and the film lacks a direction. Having said that, the film is humourous, Hunter is appealing, Mulrooney very handsome. Even if they are caricatures, the characters aren't dull, and it is something of a reassurance to see a family occaision that is probably at least vaguely familiar to most of us. The question is how bold will Foster be with her next film? She has played it safe with Little Man Tate and this. Will we see something a bit deeper next? 6/10.