‘Planes, Trains and Cars’, ‘Addams Family Values’, ‘Home for the Holidays’

'Planes, Trains and Cars', 'Addams Family Values', 'Home for the Holidays'

Thanksgiving was never a holiday that I celebrated with great enthusiasm with my family. As with other Western holidays, my parents, Taiwanese immigrants, were never quite into the vibe of them, so most of our observance was for the sake of the children and became more and more half-hearted. I usually thought of it as a rare day off for my self-employed parents, and a weekend when my friends weren’t available, leaving me sitting in my room watching parades and I love Lucy marathons on television. We did go to Star Trek movies over the Thanksgiving holiday; issues 6-10 were released at this festive time of year after achieving success with them 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 cars from my growing collection of pirated VHS tapes, eventually added Addam’s family values and then Jodie Foster’s Home for the holidays to my post-dinner, post-football, post-nap marathon. They became my gateway to the holiday, carrying with them no doubt some sentiment, but a load of cynicism, self-criticism, and the first flushes of my burgeoning social consciousness on issues of political division, class inequality, and the laundering of historical atrocities. . These films are not only conventionally entertaining, but in many ways represent the platform of opposition to our culturally imposed feel-good Manifest Destiny self-mythology.

Start with John Hughes’ masterpiece about loneliness, prejudice, tolerance and grace, Planes, trains and cars. A highly anticipated and highly anticipated collaboration between Steve Martin and John Candy, it begins with Martin’s ad exec Neal who, late for a flight home for the holidays, bribes another commuter for his cab before saying the cab was out from under him poached by shower curtain ring salesman Del (Candy). It’s the first of a series of lessons Neal will learn about the relative futility of money in getting him back to where he wants to be, unlike the essentially penniless Del, who needs everyone’s empathy and the poor man’s ingenuity. used to ease his way through the world. . The movie is a contrast between Neal’s approach to problems and Del’s, who puts on a really impressive set of resolutions about gratitude and the importance of living in the moment in a temporary world. Every time I look at it I feel it in a different way. I’ve come to dislike Del’s silliness, his lack of physical grace and social acumen, to an aversion to Neal’s contempt for others and privileged solipsism. Del is present in the world and can deal with inconveniences with grace, as he has neither the social power nor the financial resources to solve them any other way. Money and power have relieved Neal of the need to solve his problems in ways other than throwing money at them. In particular, Del 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 greedy culture of the ‘me generation’, it’s as sharp a metaphor as the business card fetishism of American psychopath. It takes a few days of frustration and anger for Neal to realize how he has everything he’s ever wanted. It actually takes someone like Del to remind Neal how short life is; too short to spend it in a state of perpetual excitement.

PLANE, TRAINS AND CARS, Steve Martin, John Candy, 1987, (c) Paramount/courtesy Everett Collec
Photo: Everett Collection

I started working in my parents’ shops full time in the summer when I was 12 for 15 minutes. I was brought up the way so many of my generation were raised to believe that the key to success was a titled job and a degree from an accredited university – one probably flowed from the other. Homeownership, a savings account, an office with a key. It’s all a lie. I’ve had those things and none of them have made me happier, just debt and a state of what seems like constant self-loathing. I don’t think at the end of your life you would wish you had worked more, that you had cluttered your spaces with more rubbish. I always cried at the end of Planes, trains and cars when Neal stops being such a jerk and invites Del over for Thanksgiving with him and his beautiful family, but I haven’t always known why. Far from cheap sentiment, it’s an essential truth: The world is a cruel trial punctuated by flashes of grace. Add to the grace as there is so little of it.

Barry Sonnenfelds Addam’s 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 battle against 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 kills them for the inheritance. She sets her sights on Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd), separates the Addamses by giving in to their fears for their children Wednesday and Pugsley (Christina Ricci and Jimmy Workman) and toddler Pubert (Kaitlyn and Kristen Hooper). she tries to electrocute them, only to find herself the one reduced to a pile of ash, 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 leaves her alone and dead. The centerpiece of the picture is set at a camp Wednesday and Pugsley are sent to and are immediately bullied by the trust fund kids who run the place. At a Thanksgiving pageant where Wednesday has been cast as “Pocahantas” in a fine example of how wealthy liberals wreak terrible havoc when they congratulate themselves on being progressive, she stages a revolt that ends with the destruction of the entire joint. She literally burns everything down. It’s a brilliant, subversive movie that is again about the zero-sum profit of “things” versus maintaining the relationships with the people you love. It’s mostly a movie about not taking things for granted and it’s, again, an important Thanksgiving picture.


End the evening with Jodie Foster’s defiantly humanistic Home for the holidays, a comedy of discomfort in which junior museum curator Claudia (Holly Hunter) is fired just before she heads home to spend a chaotic few days with her weird-but-not-weirder-than-your family. It’s easy to turn a movie like this into something unfriendly and stark – into a photo like Christmas break for example, which I like, but not because it doesn’t make fun of its characters. This does not. Home for the holidays loves Claudia’s parents Henry (Charles Durning) and Adele (Anne Bancroft). Look at the time it takes to watch him throw her into an impromptu dance in their living room – or later when Adele takes her dress off in her daughter’s room as she gets ready for bed, and looks at herself in the mirror and everything else. things that age has deepened and enhanced, rather than taken away or somehow ruined. It likes Claudia’s brother Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr.) who brings home a new boyfriend Leo (Dylan McDermott), and acts obnoxious in an attempt to get his parents (whom he loves and who love me) to they might acknowledge his homosexuality. . It likes dotty Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin) telling the story over Thanksgiving dinner of a Christmas Eve when she kissed Henry and felt young and beautiful, desired and alive, and how that memory has kept her going all these decades otherwise disappointing life. It even likes disapproving sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), married to nebbish Walter (Steve Guttenberg) with cute little kids who are a little gross and spoiled. She would be easily ridiculed in another movie and when she gets a turkey on her lap and acts bad about it, it seems like the movie is taking the easy way out, but then she gets a quiet note making this clear. is how she handles the responsibility of being one of the kids who hasn’t strayed too far from the expected average. Everyone is under pressure to fulfill a role in a family. The forced intimacy of holiday gatherings is where the cracks begin to show.

It never feels mean Home for the holidays, it feels like real people who are very different and bound by the circumstances of their birth. “Are you okay? You look good,” Claudia tells her mom. “It’s all relative,” says Adele. There’s so much warmth and non-judgmental wisdom in this photo: a portrait of imperfection and sadness, disappointment and regret that’s ultimately about how your loved ones are where you keep your hope no matter how unfit they are to be its guardians It’s a beautiful movie Foster has an excellent eye for moments of connection – the little things you always will hold to your heart when the hurricane passes I’m thankful for it I’m thankful for WD Richter’s brilliant script that provides non sequiturs for awkward questions just like people do when they try to distract from topics that are too emotional to address directly. “You’re not really going to sell the house, are you, Dad?” asks Claudia. “You want beer? Some wings? What about money? he says. “Sure, I have a beer.” And they toast for the footba competition on television.

This is very much the way my father spoke until the day he died, taking all the unsaid things between us that we tried to address through discussions about sports and business. Much of the family consists of objects involved in collision avoidance. And then they’re gone and you wish you had crashed. I remember people being driven home late at night like those who were inside Home for the holidays, silent and stolen conversations in warm environments rich in good smells and the fatigue that comes from eating and performing the version of yourself you are meant to be in front of an audience of people who know who you really are. It is a special kind of exhaustion to be stripped of the lies that enable you to get through your hours and days. If you haven’t seen it Home for the holidaysyou should.

Walter Chaw is the senior film critic for His book on Walter Hill’s films, with an introduction by James Ellroy, is now available for pre-order. To be monograph for the 1988 film MIRACLE MILE is now available.