Rated: PG-13 Reviewed by: Frank Release date: November 3, 1995 Released by: Paramount Pictures Corporation
Jodie Foster's direction is uneven and the character development is shallow but there are comical highs for the Larson family, which is not dysfunctional, just different.
Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter returns to the family home with her two siblings, Tommy and Joanne (Robert Downey, Jr. and Cynthia Stevenson), for Thanksgiving. Her parents, Adele and Henry (Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning), share life together but on a different plane. It's a parallel universe, he in one, she in another. They never intersect; at the same time they are very much in love.
Claudia has lost her job, brother Tommy has just married another ma, and Joanne wants everything perfect and feels unappreciated as the sibling who has remained near home and cares for her parents during the year. Aunt Gladys (Geraldine Chaplin) is an eccentric former Latin teacher who is in love with Henry. Steve Guttenberg is stilted and wasted as the brother-in-law.
There are too many stories, therefore each is given less than sufficient attention than necessary to reach the audience emotionally. The best comedy scenes come at the expense of Aunt Gladys and Joanne, who is missing any sense of humor. With so many stories the film leaves loose ends. Like most, the family is a family with love and conflict but Foster leaves them fractured, particularly Joanne. There is no closure to the story.
The last sequence, a series of flashbacks of old family movies, is staged to reassure that the family's cohesiveness is good enough but in the end the players look like a Ricki Lake talk show subject.
Foster's direction only shows glimpses of her brilliant, sensitive work in Little Man Tate. Tate was full of feeling, emotion and insight, the Larson tale has none of those qualities.
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