Saturday, November 23, 2019

Three Great Thanksgiving Movies if Your Teeth are Aching from the Sugary Hallmark Stuff

Yeah, yeah. I know. Everyone adores the Hallmark holiday movies, but I've never been a big fan. If you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. (Overworked big-city single mom/single girl finds herself in some bucolic backwater, falls in love, and ditches the big bad city for the countryside. Yawn. I'll stick with the big city and singlehood, thanks.)

If you're more into edgy, sarcastic, hard truth-telling, honest happyish endings, let me introduce you to three of my Thanksgiving favorites.

Home For The Holidays, 1995. Directed by Jodie Foster. Ensemble cast: Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr, Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Geraldine Chaplin, Cynthia Stevenson, Claire Danes, Steve Guttenberg.
  • Synopsis: Holly Hunter, fired from her job as an art restorer in Chicago on her way out the door for the holiday, travels to Baltimore for a family Thanksgiving. As with all families (if we admit it), everyone in the family has some kind of crap in their lives to deal with - parents and auntie getting old, crazy but loving gay brother looking for a way to break the news of his recent marriage, uptight sister thinking she carries the world on her shoulders, and newly fired Hunter worried about her daughter who stayed in Chicago to spend the holiday with her boyfriend. All ends well for (almost) everybody, so chill. And nobody has to go to the country.
  • Tiny Great Moments: 1) Charles Durning grabbing wife Anne Bancroft for a little dance to Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual." This lasts 5 seconds at most, but it's glorious. 2) Holly Hunter working on a painting resoration during opening credits. 3) Geraldine Chaplin's whacky, sad confession of kissing Durning years earlier. 4) The shared eyerolls between Hunter, in the car with her parents at the airport, and some guy in the next car with his parents. 5) Durning sharing the memory of standing with his family on a runway watching the new 727 fly over. 
  • Takeway: Jodie Foster is an amazing director. And, despite all our differences and craziness, a family is a family. "We don't have to like each other. We're family."

What's Cooking, 2000. Directed by Gurinder Chadha. Ensemble cast: Alfre Woodard, Mercedes Ruehl, Kyra Sedgwick, Lainie Kazan, Joan Chen, Julianna Margulies, Dennis Haysbert, Maury Chaykin.
  • Synopsis: Four non-WASP families gather for their family Thanksgivings in a Los Angeles neighborhood - the Seeligs, the Avilas, the Williams, and the Nguyens. Each family is experiencing some kind of change or chaos, but, oh! the food! 
  • Tiny Great Moments: 1) Lainie Kazan placing marshmallows on the sweet potatoes and adding garnish to a polenta roll. 2) Joan Chen and the grandmother putting Sriracha on half the turkey, while leaving half for regular, non-spicy basting. 3) The look Mercedes Ruehl gives outside the bathroom door after talking to her daughter and boyfriend who are showering together inside. (And it's not disapproval.) 4) Alfre Woodard's angry/distraught pie-eating when she finds out at the table that her husband's been cheating on her. Really true to life - no self-respecting woman would throw a pie at someone. She'd eat it. And Alfre goes at it. 
  • Takeaway: Thanksgiving ain't just for white Pilgrim-type folks. Each culture brings so much love and history to the table. And the food! Wow!

The Ice Storm, 1997. Directed by Ang Lee. Ensemble cast: Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes, Jamey Sheridan, Allison Janney.
  • Synopsis: Two families navigate the mid-1970s key-swapping, Nixon impeachment-era societal changes over the Thanksgiving holidays in Connecticut suburbia. It's full of coming-of-age issues pertaining as much to the adults as to their teen children. This is the darkest of the three films, and you're not sure the families are going to make it by the movie's end. Haunting music.
  • Tiny Great Moments: 1) Brother and sister (Maguire and Ricci) calling each other "Charles." 2) Sigourney Weaver's clothes. 3) Joan Allen's freedom bike ride. 4) Hostess Janney's excitement over the key-swapping. 4) That cuckolded husband Sheridan invented packing peanuts. 5) The whole early/mid-70's vibe. 
  • Takeaway: Growing up is hard. For everybody. And just say no to key-swapping. 
Of course there are a few other non-Hallmarky Thanksgiving films - Pieces of April and The House of Yes come to mind - but this is one holiday that doesn't get much love from movie-makers, so you take what you get. And in case you think I just enjoy depressing movies this time of year, I love A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Garfield's Thanksgiving, and all the Thanksgiving episodes of Friends. I am thankful for those.

Eschew sugar this Thanksgiving. Go for solid meat. None of these are turkeys.

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