As we get closer to Christmas and look forward to enjoying some rest and relaxation, it is time to suggest some movies where food traditions and holidays collide, often producing the perfect setup for family drama.
1. When trying to survive the holidays, many of us have wished for everybody to disappear, at least once. John Hughes's Home Alone (1990) plays out this fantasy with unabashed naughtiness, evoking the pleasures of childhood regression. Who would not like to be in little Kevin McAlister's shoes (played by Macaulay Culkin) and gorge on junk food and pizza with no regard whatsoever for the time of the year?
2. Tomas Bezucha's The Family Stone (2005) spins the usual tale of a newcomer trying to fit in in an unfamiliar environment, this time in liberal white New England. But when tightly knit family members have already embraced variations in sexual orientation, race miscegenation, and disability, it is hard for the new girl (Sarah Jessica Parker) to beat them at the open-minded game. Food is seemingly prepared, consumed, and even dropped on the floor just to make the outsider feel uncomfortable. Oh, the splendor of kinfolk harmony...
3. You don't need to belong to a waspy family on the Eastern seaboard to deal with your share of drama around the holiday table. The events in Alfredo de Villa's Nothing like the Holidays (2008) unfold in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Chicago, when family members gather from all over the place (one of the protagonists is an Iraq veteran) to vent their frustrations and reveal the tensions in their relationships. Nothing like yelling at each other in front of great food! h
4. Sometimes the yuletide spirit tracks you down even if you try to avoid it by flying to another continent. That is what happens to Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) in Wayne Wang's The Last Holiday (2006). Convinced that cancer has left her with only three weeks to live, Georgia goes to the Czech republic to spend New Year's Eve in a luxurious hotel where chef Didier (Gerard Depardieu) bedazzles her with his over-the-top, high-fat, old-school French menu. Nobody can mess with her desperate groove, not even her evil former employer who is using the lavish meals to show off connections and drop names.
5. We could not finish without a foreign movie, for those who do not mind subtitles (the movie is Italian) and can deal with a whole lot of cruel and bitter humor. Definitely this is not everybody's holiday fare. Mario Monicelli's Parenti Serpenti (Dearest Relatives, 1992) is an ironic and wry portrait of a small-town Italian family that gets together for Christmas to rehearse the same fights, the same conversations, and the same gestures around the same festive dishes, year after year. All goes well until the siblings agree that their elderly parents have become a nuisance and decide to leave the gas leaking from the stove while they leave the apartment to celebrate...
6. Ok, that might be too much for some. If you need some sweetness in the end, how about Will Ferrell in the 2003 Elf, where he plays the eponymous character, a magical creature with daddy issues who loves to drown spaghetti and meat sauce with maple syrup?