TERRE HAUTE —
“It’s a Wonderful Life” … “A Christmas Story” … “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” … “Christmas Vacation” … “Home Alone” … “Scrooged” …
That’s a formidable list. It might be easier to earn a spot on Mount Rushmore than to break into that lineup of America’s favorite holiday movies.
Yet Terre Haute native Cathy Rubey’s film also could become a mainstay in the Thanksgiving-to-New-Year’s rotation on television, but in more understated fashion. “Holiday Baggage,” which Rubey co-wrote with Hollywood veteran Stephen Polk, doesn’t rely on the comic antics of a Chevy Chase, Steve Martin or Bill Murray. Nobody gets hit with a toaster or gets a tongue stuck to a flagpole. There’s no mischievous Macaulay Culkin or suicidal Jimmy Stewart.
This story, though, has the potential to “really hit home,” as Rubey put it.
“Holiday Baggage” will literally hit home next month. The film, starring Cheryl Ladd and Barry Bostwick, will be screened in Rubey’s hometown at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 3 in the Old National Bank lobby during downtown Terre Haute’s “Miracle on Seventh Street” festivities.
In its plot, Pete Murphy (played by Bostwick) is an airline pilot ready to retire, marry a young flight attendant and move to the Bahamas. First, though, he must return to the home he left years before and finalize a divorce from his estranged wife, Sarah (Ladd). Instead, Pete gets drawn back into the lives of his wife and two grown daughters. Sarah, a pediatrician, invites Pete to stay for Thanksgiving on the condition that he must reconcile with their daughters. One harbors deep bitterness toward him. The other is mostly disappointed. Both are stunned to see him again.
Through their awkward reunion, Pete slowly realizes what he’s about to lose forever. Skeptical and unmoved by his attempts to make amends, his oldest daughter hits her father with a withering admonition as the family listens in pained silence. It’s a turning point for all.
The path from that moment to the entire family posing for a Christmas picture in the closing scenes gradually becomes less jagged. Pete begins to own the damage he’s caused, feels regret and reconsiders his plans. His wife and daughters start to heal.
“It’s all about showing people what the steps of that journey to forgiveness look like,” Rubey said by telephone from Downers Grove, Ill., where she now lives.
She realized the movie’s impact when it premiered last year at film festivals in California and in theaters around suburban Chicago. “I saw a lot of middle-aged dads walking out of the theater, getting a drink or taking a break, and they’d say something to me afterward like, ‘Did you write that about me?’” Rubey said.
Impressively, Rubey wrote “Holiday Baggage” on her first try as a screenwriter. The idea came to her seven years ago while attending the Sundance Film Festival in Utah with her husband, Andy, also a Terre Haute native.
With the support of Andy, and family and friends in Chicago and Terre Haute, Rubey co-wrote the script with Polk, nurtured film industry connections, formed a small production company, found investors, landed Ladd (of “Charlie’s Angels” fame) and Bostwick (“Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Spin City”) and shepherded the film to its completion, while also raising twin daughters who are now 9. It was filmed in February and March 2008.
Since then, the movie has drawn positive responses at its screenings and good advance reviews, especially from faith-based outlets such as the Dove Foundation. The investors already have been paid back, Rubey said. And next November, “Holiday Baggage” is expected to be released on DVD and premier on Lifetime television network.
Rubey, a Terre Haute South Vigo High School and Indiana University grad, is 40 years old.
“It’s exceeded my expectations,” she said of the film.
Inspired by that success, Rubey is working with Polk on two new screenplays. Like “Holiday Baggage,” both projects are family-oriented. “Stick to what you know,” she said. “We know that genre. I enjoy it.”
In the meantime, though, she’s focused on the final details of her debut movie’s nationwide release. Its screening in Terre Haute will serve as a fundraiser for Arts Illiana. Its message could give “Holiday Baggage” a niche among the smorgasbord of Thanksgiving and Christmas films. “The concept of [God’s] grace and forgiveness, and finding peace at the end of that,” Rubey said, “is life-changing.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or email@example.com.