After the earnest but insipid Little Man Tate, that protean actress Jodie Foster takes another swing at directing with this rambunctious comedy about the sick feeling that comes when we head to the family hearth for the damned holidays. As Thanksgiving nears, Foster watches with compassion and mischievous wit as characters drag their asses to the emotional killing fields of home. It’s a shame that W.D. Richter’s un-Disney-ish script often slides into shrill stereotypes and sitcom silliness. Ample compensation comes from Foster’s large and spirited cast. Holly Hunter is a live wire as Claudia, a single mom just fired from a Chicago museum and worried that her 15-year-old daughter, Kitt (Claire Danes), is about to give up her virginity while Claudia is in Baltimore choking on turkey with the folks.
Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning could not be better as Claudia’s domineering and loving parents, but Robert Downey Jr. overdoes the manic frenzy of Tommy, Claudia’s gay brother. Tommy brings along Leo (a charming Dylan McDermott), who confuses Claudia by flirting with her. At least Leo takes Claudia’s mind off her eccentric Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin) and Claudia’s guilt-instilling sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson) and her banker husband, Walter (Steve Guttenberg). The film’s comic highlight is a Thanksgiving dinner that ends in a food fight with turkey and accusations flying. Foster keeps the party hopping, although more dark humor would have helped before she winds it down with sentiment and bromides.