If aliens learned about Thanksgiving from movies and television, they’d get a skewed idea of what the day is all about. In real life we express our gratitude for life’s bounty, but on screen it’s a different story.
“Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday,” joked Johnny Carson. “People travel thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year and then discover once a year is way too often.”
Being less than thankful for family is a common theme in entertainment. The House of Yes saw queen of quirk Parker Posey ruin Thanksgiving when her favourite brother brings home his fiancée, and in Pieces of April a pre-Cruisized Katie Holmes not only has to deal with a broken stove but a broken family as well.
Home for the Holidays has a heart warming title that promises sweetness and light but director Jody Foster’s Thanksgiving tale is anything but an ode to the holiday. It’s the family reunion from hell for the Larson family, culminating in fist fights and emotional distress. The film’s tone is summed up by Robert Downey Jr. who invites everyone to the dinner table with the words, “Let’s eat dead bird!”
The Larsons didn’t gel on Turkey Day, but as James D. Turner remarked in Trading Places, “It ain’t cool being no jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving,” so I dug deeper for examples of film families enjoying the holiday.
The Ice Storm’s backdrop of ’70s suburban ennui sets the tone for a tragic climax on Thanksgiving Day and Christina Ricci’s acidic prayer. “Dear Lord,” she says, “thank you for this Thanksgiving holiday. And for letting us white people kill all the Indians and steal their tribal lands. And stuff ourselves like pigs, even though children in Asia are being napalmed.”
Cheery stuff! But not as grim as the Thanksgiving horror trailer from Grindhouse. “White meat, dark meat,” cackles the announcer. “All will be carved.”
At least Planes, Trains and Automobiles, about odd couple Steve Martin and John Candy trying to get home for Thanksgiving, is jammed packed with laughs, even if Martin isn’t the most thankful man.
Also grin worthy is Hannah and Her Sisters, the Woody Allen film book ended by Central Park West Thanksgiving dinners.
If Thanksgiving really was like it is in the movies the only thing we’d be giving thanks for is that it only comes around once a year.