So I may not be American, I may not agree with the holiday and I may not really get along with my family, in fact I think it’s for these reasons that I’m so attracted to the notion of the Thanksgiving movie. They’re a different breed than the Christmas movie (although don’t get me wrong, I’m addicted to those too) there’s no moralistic time-of-the-season suagr to buy into, and most often the characters seem reticent about the notion of being forced to spend time with their nearest and dearest. I think this is why my Virgo self finds it all so appealing, enforced family time that one can’t escape, but I digress.
With the exception of Planes,Trains… the Thanksgiving movie is generally a slightly sombre affair. It lends itself to the US indie perfectly – just think of the opportunity! Beautiful cinematography, huge open air shots of large expanses blanketed in snow (even in the city-centric Pieces of April we’re given enough freeway shots to meet this demand) lots of tiny conversations that don’t come to filling the space, all of the staples!
The notion of home and family is a particularly complex one in the 21st century, which is probably why the Thanksgiving movie exists. Anyway, these are my favourite Thanksgiving movies that I always find the time to watch around this time of year.
This is my favourite of the lot, I feel like I may have over romanticized it slightly, given it still hasn’t been released on DVD and my VHS version was lost years before my VHS player. The cast reads like an all star indie fest, and unsurprisingly director (and husband of Julianne Moore) Bart Freundlich was up for the Grand Jury at Sundance the year it came out.
It follows the children and their respective partners returning to their familial home for Thanksgiving, Roy Scheider and Blythe Danner play Mom and Dad and the children (and others) include Noah Wyle, Julianne Moore, Hope Davis, Michael Vartan and James LeGros.
It’s hard to explain the beautiful understated simplicity of this movie (and harder still to understand how Bart went on the direct The Rebound). The relationships are honest in their confusion and blurry boundaries and pretty much everyone delivers a flawless performance. It’s a near perfect American Indie.
Remember back when Ang Lee hadn’t ruined the Incredible Hulk for everyone and people still swooned about his direction? Yeah, this is a shining example of that. It’s no secret I find the 70s massively comforting, so this is ideal for me. Featuring another all star cast, with Sigourney Weaver in her meanest role to date it centres around Kevin Kline’s Connecticut family and their surrounding community in the lead up to Thanksgiving in 1973. It has everything, a young Christina Ricci corrupting an even younger boyfriends sibling, Katie Holmes all fucked up on valium in an NY apartment, key parties, Tobey Maguire pre-Spiderfame, child death, storms AND family dissolution. And somehow, it all looks beautiful.
I love this Jodie Foster directed affair. It stars Holly Hunter, Downey Jnr and Guttenberg (!) and somehow manages to occupy the space between think-y indie and National Lampoons. I think my favourite moment is when Hunter arrives home and meets her parents at the airport having dropped her coat in the arrivals lounge is berated by her mother for lack of warmth and dressed in her spare, immediately demoting her to child status. As she’s sitting in the back of the car on the way back from the airport, she glances into the car in traffic next to theirs and sees a man her age also sitting in the back seat bundled in a huge coat listening to his parents yapping incessantly. It’s these moments of quiet comedy that this movie excels at. Oh, and cheeky prankster Robert Downey Jnr is fantastic too. It’s everything I love about Thanksgiving Movies.
I think we’re all agreed that Katie Holmes was best when she was playing Joey on Dawson’s? Well, she basically plays her again here, but in a slightly quirkier (crazy hair coloured) way.
She plays April, a bad girl (she’s living with a black guy and everything!) who has some issues with her overbearing mother. She’s invited her whole family to have Thanksgiving in her tiny shoddy NY apartment for the first time, and they haven’t spoken in years. Obviously everything that can fuck-up does – it’s the story of trying to repair past damages within an impending timeframe created by her mothers illness.
It’s better than it sounds and that’s down to the always amazing Oliver Platt lightening the tension with underplayed comedic genius at the exact moments it’s needed. Not your traditional big-house-in-the-country Thanksgiving movie, but it’s nice to see that setting doesn’t really have any bearing on the disfunction of familial interaction.