I feel like talking about the script. I mean, Home for the Holidays hardly has a plot. Not an obvious one. There are subplots all over the place, but really, it is almost like a stream of consciousness kind of storytelling. Stuff just happens. There is only an obvious throughline because we are stuck with Claudia for nearly the entire film; seriously, there are only a couple shots that do not include her. I will try to note those as I go.
In the meantime, going back to Dyer and Marshall (both of which I have cited more than once, but especially when I broke down the script of Groundhog Day over one two three days a while back… but Marshall’s piece doesn’t seem to exist online anymore). I remember I was sick when I started that breakdown, writing my handwritten notes when I could barely breathe. I am reminded of the sick thing because of Claudia’s “24-hour bug” here.
Anyway, Home for the Holidays is over 100 minute with its end credits, and just under, without. So, when Dyer says the first 10% of the script should be setup, it is roughly ten minutes of this film that should be setup. In those first 10 minutes, Claudia is fired, learns her daughter is going to spend Thanksgiving with (and have sex with) her boyfriend. Her coat is lost, setting up the ridiculous pink coat she will wear through most of the film. Claudia is established as sick, capable of rash, and stupid, decisions like making out with her boss (who has just fired her), and is impulsive enough to explain the horribleness in detail over the skyphone to her brother while sitting next to Mrs. Lancaster on the plane.
Actually, at 10 minutes even, Claudia is calling her brother, which would be Dyer’s small catalyst or Marshall’s inciting incident. If Claudia does not call Tommy, then Tommy would not come for Thanksgiving, and many of the events we see would simply not happen. Plus, this being Hollywood, we need Leo to be there for the romantic plotline, and he only comes because of Tommy... Of course, he could have been a friend of the family, or someone Claudia’s mom tried to fix her up with. But, then maybe Claudia would have more actively not gotten together with him, much as she simply has a conversation with “Sad Sack” Terziak and lets him be on his way. The confusion with Leo possibly being Tommy’s new boyfriend both creates a delay for the Leo-Claudia relationship and diverts away from the Tommy-Jack marriage revelation to come. Joanne’s disgust with Tommy and his public displays of homosexuality stand out even more because we are given the impression (like Claudia is) that Tommy is having trouble with his longtime relationship with Jack.
The 17-minute mark—Dyer’s large catalyst, Marshall’s (or that of anyone studying screenplay structure, really) Page 17—comes right after the revelation that Joanne is bringing her own turkey for her side of the family, right after the realization that Claudia used to paint, and there is a phone ringing to draw attention to this moment, in which Claudia’s mother figures out she was fired. I am not familiar enough with this film at this point to spot the exact line here that would be the key detail, but Claudia claiming she can take care of herself versus her mother’s offer of help might be it.
It is important to note, much like in yesterday‘s entry, that real life just does not have all this structure. In retrospect, we could probably boil down the various subplots of our lives to find the inciting incidents that led to them, but the timing is probably not so regular. Some pieces of our lives take years of setup, and some arise almost out of the blue.
Dyer tells us that 25 minutes in we should have plot point one. By this point in Home for the Holidays, Tommy and Leo have arrived. Dyer tells us that at this point, “the protagonist must begin the pursuit of his external goal.” Except, Claudia really does not have an external goal. Not yet. Hell, even if Leo is her external goal later, he is not now, plus Claudia does not then achieve said goal. She lets him get away only to have him make the effort to return. At 25 minutes in, Leo has been introduced. In a way, the external goal here is ours, the audience’s. We might immediately see the connection between Leo and Claudia. His potential homosexuality might get in the way for a while, but we can see it. We can want it, even if Claudia does not.
(Nice timing—and I am not sure how I did not catch it before—with Claudia saying she was “fragile” when she left the phone message for Tommy and Leo dropping an egg on the floor.)
Effectively, since Claudia spends most of the movie at her parents’ house, it makes sense that the division between Act One and Act Two does not come from her arrival but Tommy’s (and Leo’s).
And, I have left out Script Lab’s sequences. By this point, as the second act is getting underway, we are through sequence one and sequence two (the predicament and lock-in. The central predicament should be clear by now, or at least retroactively obvious when we have watched the rest of the film. Claudia needs to be locked in to her story.
We come upon Dyer’s pinch one (which should be 37.5% of the way through the movie) after Aunt Glady has been introduced. It is not the Relatives segment that produces the pinch (nor is it late enough to be in the More Relatives segment). Dyer calls this “a major plot event... that complicates the protagonist’s pursuit of his external goal.” By Dyer’s structure breakdown, the presence of, and then conversation with, “Sad Sack” Terziak is the pinch. For Script Lab, sequence three is supposed to raise the stakes for the protagonist. Tommy has several times now implied that Leo likes Claudia, but she is too preoccupied with her own impression of the situation to notice. Meanwhile, here she is talking to “Sad Sack,” making polite conversation when she clearly is not interested. The useful thing with “Sad Sack” is that he just does not seem to notice (or necessarily care).
Sequence four involves rising action to get us to the midpoint, what Script Lab calls the first culmination. After the “Sad Sack” incident, we get More Relatives—the arrival of Joanne, her husband, and their two children. The Thanksgiving dinner is coming. The heart of the movie. The Birds.
The 50-minute mark (what should roughly the midpoint) arrives at the dinner table. Since there is not an obvious plot to Home for the Holidays, it is hard to judge exactly what the midpoint should be. Script Lab tells us that the first culmination should be a low point for a protagonist who loses in the end, a small victory for a protagonist who wins in the end. There is no clear win or loss in the end of this film, and the midpoint comes at the end of Aunt Glady’s story. So, whose midpoint is it? Not Claudia’s, necessarily, except inasmuch as Aunt Glady’s “one special moment” with Henry perhaps previews what is to come between Leo and Claudia. In fact, the exact 50-minute mark seems to come right as we get a reaction shot from Leo, clearly appreciating Aunt Glady’s story. Script Lab says the first culmination should parallel the resolution to come. So, if this film is not about family but relationships of various types, then Aunt Glady’s story does prefigure the relationship budding between Claudia and Leo later. And, we can hope their thing lasts longer than Aunt Glady’s “one special moment.”
Sequence five risks a lull in the action, but Home for the Holidays has plenty of energy here with the back and forth around the table. Within this sequence should be Dyer’s pinch two which should push the protagonist in a new direction. Joanne revealing Tommy’s marriage, which means Leo is available for Claudia, is just this push. The Thanksgiving gathering is the setting, but the plot, if there is one, is Claudia and Leo. The realization that Leo is not only not homosexual but also available, comes about 57 minutes in; Dyer’s pinch two should be 62.5% of the way in (but I am still not sure if Dyer includes or excludes the credits in the runtime. At 62.5 minutes, Tommy has just said a great line—which I have already quoted—”You’re a pain in the ass, you’ve got bad hair, but I like you a lot.” The exact moment falls between Tommy’s (and Claudia’s) mother saying she cannot change and Tommy responding that he cannot either. This is not really pinch two but it is an important moment in the breakdown of the film. This is family. This is life. Sometimes, we cannot change who we are, but we are stuck with certain people in our lives anyway. So, we have to learn to live with them because we cannot get rid of them.
Tommy and Claudia sit down at the kitchen table, away from the main dinner table, and they hug, to reinforce the whole family thing. You hug who you can hug to survive those you cannot (or are unwilling to).
There is an echo of Claudia’s phone message to Tommy earlier on the plane in her conversation with her daughter from inside the kitchen pantry. Within the context of the film, Kitt is relieving some pressure from her mother (with the revelation that she is not, in fact, losing her virginity to her boyfriend today), and she is reminding her mother to “float.” A useful reminder for everyone most any day, but especially around family, especially tomorrow—Thanksgiving her in the States.
Joanne and her family are gone at 28 minutes in. They are barely present, only about 20 minutes at the center of the film (and a few minutes later), but they make a memorable impact.
Then Henry congratulates Jack on his marriage to Tommy—a nice moment.
Plot point two is supposed to come 75% of the way through the film. At 1 hour 15 minutes, Leo and Claudia have taken Aunt Glady home and they are at the White Tower getting coffee. In fact, Leo has just told the kid working there that he is on a “date.”
It has been a slow build, but the plot has emerged finally with the main culmination here.
Act Three, Script Lab tells us, begins with sequence seven, in which there is a new tension, maybe a twist. The tension is obvious—Claudia and Leo have kissed, but she has to deal with her sister. And, you get one of the most remarkably (and regrettably) honest lines in the movie, Joanne’s “If I just met you on the street, if you gave me your number, I’d throw it away.” Claudia’s response: “Well, we don’t have to like each other, Jo. We’re family.”
The twist comes when Claudia makes the choice to let Leo go. At 1 hour 24 minutes, Claudia goes to her room. Leo follows, but she does not let him in. He heads downstairs a couple minutes later.
And we get to The Point. The film’s subtitled division comes right in line with sequence eight, the resolution. Claudia talks her her father, settling right in as if she does this every day, before she heads home. And, we get the introduction of the home movies—more on that (and their conversation) tomorrow. Then, Claudia leaves. Dyer tells us, “The protagonist returns to his ordinary world at this point, but he should now be so changed by everything that he has gone through that he can no longer be satisfied living the way he did before.” We do not get to know just what will come of Claudia’s life after. But then again, we did not really know much about her life before. We came into her story (or her into ours) just as one chapter was coming to an end. She is in a transitional, liminal stage. And, as she heads for the airport (where the movie is right now on my TV), she is without plot. Thanksgiving dinner has come and gone. There is no job waiting for her back in Chicago. There is a daughter and a life but there details are vague.
Enter: Leo. On the plane. Script Lab tells us clarity is important at this point. We want to know how it ends. We want to know where it is going. Home for the Holidays is not all that nice when it comes to clarity... unless the home movies tie it all together. After all of these words today, that will have to wait.