In this article, you will get all information regarding ‘Planes Trains And Automobiles,’ ‘Addams Family Values’, ‘Home For The Holidays’ – Today Breeze
Thanksgiving was never a holiday I celebrated with my family with much gusto. As with other Western holidays, my parents, Taiwanese immigrants, never quite cottoned with the vibe of them, so most of our observance was for the benefit of the kids and increasingly half-hearted. Mostly, I looked at it as a rare day off for my self-employed parents, and a weekend where my friends were unavailable, leaving me to sit in my room and watch parades and I Love Lucy marathons on broadcast television. We did go to Star Trek movies during Thanksgiving break, though; numbers 6-10 were released at this festive time of year after finding success doing so with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. As Thanksgiving traditions go, it wasn’t the worst.
Left to my own devices, I made it a ritual to watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles from my growing-collection of pirated VHS tapes, eventually adding Addams Family Values and then Jodie Foster’s Home for the Holidays to my post-dinner, post-football, post-nap marathon. They became my portal to the holiday, carrying with them some sentiment, no question, but a payload of cynicism, auto-critique, and the first stirrings of my budding social awareness around issues of political divisions, class inequity, and whitewashing of historical atrocity. These films are not only conventionally entertaining, but represent in many ways the opposition platform to our culturally-mandated feel-good Manifest Destiny self-mythology.
Start with John Hughes’ masterpiece of loneliness, prejudice, tolerance and grace, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. A highly-anticipated and much-hyped collaboration between Steve Martin and John Candy, it opens with Martin’s ad-exec Neal who, late for a flight home for the holidays, bribes another commuter for his cab before having said cab poached out from under him by shower curtain ring salesman Del (Candy). It’s the first of a series of lessons Neal will learn about the relative uselessness of money in getting him back to where he wants to be, contrasted against essentially penniless Del, using his everyman’s empathy and poor-man’s resourcefulness to ease his way through the world. The film is a contrast between Neal’s approach to problems and Del’s, setting up a genuinely-impactful series of resolutions about gratefulness and the importance of living in the moment in a temporary world. Each time I watch it, I feel it in a different way. I have gone from loathing Del’s oafishness, his lack of physical grace and social acuity, to loathing Neal’s disdain for others and privileged solipsism. Del is present in the world and able to negotiate inconvenience with grace, because he doesn’t have the social power nor the financial resources to resolve them in another way. Money and power have absolved Neal from the need to solve his problems in any way other than throwing money at it. Del, notably, melts Neal’s credit cards. It’s an accident, of course, the unfortunate outcome of a series of unfortunate events, but as an attack on the “Me Generation’s” culture of acquisitiveness, it’s as keen a metaphor as the business card fetishism of American Psycho. It takes a couple of days of frustration and rage for Neal to appreciate how he has everything he’s ever wanted. It takes someone like Del, in fact, to remind Neal of how short life is; too short to spend it in a state of perpetual agitation.
I started working at my parents’ stores, full time in the summers, when I was 12 for a quarter an hour. I was raised as so many of my generation were raised, on the verities that the key to success was a job with a title and a degree from an accredited University – the one flowing presumably from the other. Home ownership, a savings account, an office with a key. All of it’s a lie. I’ve had those things and not a one of them made me happier, just in debt and a state of what seems like constant self-loathing. I don’t believe you come to the end of your life wishing you’d worked more, that you’d larded your spaces with more garbage. I have always cried at the end of Planes, Trains and Automobiles when Neal stops being such a jerk and invites Del to have Thanksgiving with him and his beautiful family, but I’ve not always known why. Far from cheap sentiment, it’s an essential truth: the world is a cruel trial interrupted by flashes of grace. Add to the grace because there’s just so little of it.
Barry Sonnenfeld’s Addams Family Values tells the same lesson in a slightly more absurd way, centering his family of socially-unacceptable but devoted and loving misfits as they do battle with an agent of cold, opportunistic materialism. Debbie, played by the incomparable Joan Cusack, is a serial killer – a “black widow” who marries wealthy men and then murders them for the inheritance. She sets her sights on Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd), separating the Addamses by preying on their fears for their children Wednesday and Pugsley (Christina Ricci and Jimmy Workman), and toddler Pubert (Kaitlyn and Kristen Hooper), leading up to a moment where she tries to electrocute them only to find herself the one reduced to a pile of ashes, the deadly voltage sparing only her expensive pumps and her credit cards. The Addamses have everything. Money and possessions mean nothing to them. Debbie thinks money will make her happy but it just makes her alone and dead. The centerpiece of the picture happens at a camp where Wednesday and Pugsley have been sent and where they’re immediately bullied by the trust fund kids running the place. At a Thanksgiving pageant where Wednesday has been cast as “Pocahantas” in a lovely example of how wealthy liberals do terrible damage when they congratulate themselves for their progressiveness, she stages an uprising that ends with the destruction of the entire joint. She, literally, burns it all down. It’s a brilliant, subversive film that is again about the zero sum gain of “stuff” versus nursing the relationships with the people whom you love. Of all things, it’s a film about not taking things for granted and it is, again, a key Thanksgiving picture.
Cap the night with Jodie Foster’s defiantly-humanistic Home for the Holidays, a comedy of discomfort in which junior museum curator Claudia (Holly Hunter) is laid off just prior to heading home to spend a chaotic few days with her weird-but-no-weirder-than-your family. It’s easy to make a film like this into something unkind and shrill – into a picture like Christmas Vacation for instance, which I like but not because it’s not making fun of its characters. This doesn’t do that. Home for the Holidays loves Claudia’s parents Henry (Charles Durning) and Adele (Anne Bancroft). Look at the time it takes to just watch him spinning her into an impromptu little dance in their living room – or later when Adele takes off her dress in her daughter’s room while getting ready for bed, and looks at herself in the mirror and all the things that age has deepened and enhanced, rather than taken away or ruined somehow. It loves Claudia’s brother Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr.) who brings home a new boyfriend Leo (Dylan McDermott), and acts out obnoxiously in an attempt to get his parents (whom he loves and who love im back) to maybe acknowledge his homosexuality. It loves dotty Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin) who, during Thanksgiving dinner, tells the story about one Christmas Eve where she kissed Henry and felt young and beautiful, desired and alive, and how that memory has kept her going for all these decades of her otherwise disappointing life. It even loves disapproving sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), married to nebbish Walter (Steve Guttenberg) with adorable little kids who are kind of rude and spoiled. In a different film she’d be the object of easy ridicule and, when she gets a turkey in her lap and acts poorly about it, it seems like the film’s taking the easy route, but then she’s given a quiet note where it’s clear this is how she deals with the responsibility of being the one of the kids who hasn’t deviated too far from the expected mean. Everyone is under pressure to perform a role in a family. The forced intimacy of holiday reunions is where the cracks start to show.
It never feels mean, Home for the Holidays, it feels like real people who are very different who are bound by the circumstances of their birth. “Are you okay? You look okay,” Claudia says to her mother. “It’s all relative,” Adele says. There’s so much warmth and non-judgmental wisdom in this picture: a portrait of imperfection and sadness, disappointment and regret, that is at the end about how your loved ones are where you store your hope, no matter how unfit they might be to be the guardians of it. It’s a beautiful movie. Foster has an exquisite eye for moments of connection – the little things you’ll always hold against your heart when the hurricane has passed. I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for W.D. Richter’s brilliant script that offers non-sequiturs to uncomfortable questions in exactly the way people will when they’re trying to distract from topics too emotional to address directly. “You’re not really going to sell the house, are you, dad?” Claudia asks. “You wanna beer? Some wings? How about money?” he says. “Sure, I’ll take a beer.” And they toast in front of the football game on the television.
This is very much the way my dad I talked up to the day he died, taking with him all of the unspoken things between us that we tried to address through discussions of sports and business. So much of family is objects engaged in the avoidance of collision. And then they’re gone and you wish you’d crashed. I remember late nights driving people home like the ones in Home for the Holidays, quiet and stolen conversations in warm environments rich with good smells and the fatigue that comes from eating and performing the version of yourself you’re supposed to be for an audience of people who know who you actually are. It’s a special kind of exhaustion to be stripped of the lies that allow you to make it through your hours and days. If you haven’t seen Home for the Holidays, you should.
Walter Chaw is the Senior Film Critic for filmfreakcentral.net. His book on the films of Walter Hill, with introduction by James Ellroy, is now available for pre-order. His monograph for the 1988 film MIRACLE MILE is available now.
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‘Planes Trains And Automobiles,’ ‘Addams Family Values’, ‘Home For The Holidays’ – Today Breeze
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