Cinemalphabet: H is for Home Movies (1980)
What can I say about this film school project, managed by De Palma? Home Movies is definitely an acquired taste. Similar to Bonfire of the Vanities, enjoyment of it requires one to be a bit of a De Palma fanboy or fangirl, which of course I am.
The story is utterly ludicrous – an awkward, geeky guy gets lessons on how to be the “star” of his own life by Kirk Douglas – yet somehow all its cheeky humor, ridiculous characters and questionable craft choices produce a quirky, though definitely problematic and highly entertaining film. If you like odd films that ask a lot of the audience and guarantee nothing approaching a reasonable payoff, then Home Movies is for you. Centered on the lives of the dysfunctional Byrd clan – complete with a cheating father, cloying mother and a sketchy elder son – Home Movies finds most of his humor through Dennis Byrd (played by the terminally plucky Keith Gordon) attempts at becoming the center of his universe in order to steal his brother’s gorgeous girlfriend (played by De Palma’s one time muse Nancy Allen). Much of the dialog feels unstructured and improvised, but again this probably has roots in the film being experimental. De Palma collaborated with some of his film students at Sarah Lawrence on this thing.
Vincent Gardenia shines as the tawdry patriarch who spends his days chasing his “naughty” nurse around his office and his nights avoiding romantic interludes with his needy wife. All of these shenanigans occur while his older brother (Gerritt Graham) teaches boys how to become “men”, which features a bizarre belief system and some weirdness on a camping trip. Dennis seeks out the assistance of the Maestro (Douglas) who lectures endlessly about being the star of one’s life while also serving as a narrator of sorts for the audience. Dennis engages in many ill-fated attempts to attract attention from his brother’s weird and hot girlfriend, who by the way is often shown possessed by an evil stuffed bunny who makes her eat greasy foods and wear “slutty” clothing.
Look, the film makes little sense and has little reason for remaining the public consciousness, except that it is a De Palma film and one I couldn’t get enough of when I was 14. Having seen it as an adult, there are even more jokes I understand and more things I find problematic. Yet, still I cannot resist the charms of this film when I get myself in the mood to screen it.