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By Jesse Fox Mayshark

DECEMBER 1, 1997: 

Has there ever been a movie with a happy Thanksgiving scene? It seems like every time the turkey and cranberry sauce appear on the silver screen, they're accompanied by husbands and wives yelling at each other, children screaming at their parents, or nobody talking to anybody at all. The most recent culprit is The Ice Storm (see review at left), where the turkey defrosts but the family doesn't. But it's only the latest in a long line...

A recent example is Jodie Foster's dysfunctional family study Home for the Holidays (1996, R), starring Holly Hunter as a single mom who gets fired and finds out her teenage daughter's planning on losing her virginity just as she's preparing to fly out for Thanksgiving with her emotionally brittle family. Hunter is her usual spunky self and a pre-rehab Robert Downey Jr. is effectively rambunctious as her rebellious gay brother. It's all a bit predictable and the balance of comedy and drama is a little uneven, but Foster has an affection for her characters that overcomes her sometimes awkward direction.

Woody Allen specializes in dysfunctional families, and one of his best films—Hannah and Her Sisters (1986, R)—culminates in an extended-family holiday feast where the story's various cross-relationships come to a head. It concerns three sisters (Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, and Barbara Hershey) and the men in their lives (who include Allen and Michael Caine). Funny, sad, and insightful, the film marked a new maturity in Allen's filmmaking, establishing him as one of the preeminent chroniclers of modern American life.

Less compelling but still fun is Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987, R), a slapsticky John Hughes affair about an uptight businessman (Steve Martin) trying to get home for Thanksgiving. He's impeded by a well-intentioned blunderer (John Candy) who just wants to be liked. Martin and Candy make the movie funnier than it probably deserves to be, and the ending is maudlin. But there are hysterical scenes, like the classic in which the two have to share a bed. After a string of effective teen dramas, this was the last decent movie Hughes made before descending into Home Alone hell.

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