A film director known as The Maestro (Kirk Douglas) is presenting his latest class in how create movie magic, a process he terms "Star Therapy". He is very enthusiastic, and is even having the lecture filmed, but his main concern aside from his cameraman getting the right angles is the subject of today's talk, a young man known as Denis Byrd (Keith Gordon). Denis considered himself an extra in his own life, and was suffering for it, being part of a family whose problems tended to overshadow his own. For instance, his mother (Mary Davenport) walked in on him and a girl in a compromising position, but she thought he was his father - giving Denis a new idea...
Home Movies, as the name suggests, was filmed as if it were an amateur film, and this comedy was the very strange result. It was, in fact, a student film with pretentions, being the result of a college class writer-director Brian De Palma held with the idea of actually making a proper feature film instead of simply learning about it through books and lectures. With six students scripting from De Palma's orginal story, it's surprising it doesn't feel like watching six films running at once; no, it feels like watching three films running at once, which must be some kind of improvement.
Douglas (also an investor in the project) is obviously having fun playing an egotistical director, but he really isn't in the film that much, more part of the ensemble. The story concentrates on the dysfunctional Byrd family as the mother tries to commit suicide through an overdose of pills, thinking she has witnessed her doctor husband (Vincent Gardenia) in an act of adultery. She hasn't but ironically he is cheating on her with his nurse and Denis decides to provide proof of this with his home movie camera so that she can file for divorce and he can be the hero of the family, and the star of his life, for a change.
The reason Denis is overshadowed is because of his brother James (Gerrit Graham), a kind of self help guru who is promoting his new lifestyle of "Spartanetics", and has his own pseudo Scout troop (this is a men only lifestyle) to follow him. He is engaged to Kristina (Nancy Allen), a fragile soul who worships him for convincing her to reform her smoking, drinking, junk food eating, nymphomaniac (she performed a sex act with a bunny) ways. The dinner party scene is typically weird, with James demanding that Kristina not eat anything ("It's POISON!") while he enjoys a health drink with a whole carrot stuck in it.
Although supposed to be funny, Home Movies is rarely laugh out loud material due to coming across as a self-indulgent amusement for the film makers, so I guess it lives up to its title. That's not to say there aren't amusing bits, as when an enraged James demands "SILENCE!" and even the birds stop tweeting in the trees, or when we find out how deeply affected by her experiences Kristina has become when she starts talking to a bunny puppet (this is the bit you'll remember if you've seen it). The actors are all committed to high quality, eccentric performances, with positive consequences: Graham is amusingly nutty and Allen is very entertaining carrying on a conversation with Bunny, who calls her "Toots". So it's better than most student films in that respect and provides some idiosyncrasy for De Palma's filmography. Music by Pino Donaggio.
He's not aversed to directing blockbusters such as Scarface, The Untouchables and Mission Impossible, but Bonfire of the Vanities was a famous flop and The Black Dahlia fared little better as his profile dipped in its later years, with Passion barely seeing the inside of cinemas. Even in his poorest films, his way with the camera is undeniably impressive. Was once married to Nancy Allen.