I’ve always thought it was weird that there aren’t that many Thanksgiving movies. It’s one of the few ubiquitous American holidays — every American celebrates it no matter what race, religion, gender, sexuality, occupation or star sign they are. So then why don’t we have the same wealth of Thanksgiving media that we do for a religious holiday like Christmas?
Yes, Thanksgiving whitewashes the very real and horrendous Native American genocide that European settlers brought with them to America and we do not do much (or anything, really) as a culture to reckon with that. We barely learned about the many atrocities committed against Native American people in the public school I went to in an area originally settled by the Potawatomi and Miami tribes which WE NEVER EVEN ONCE LEARNED. I HAD TO LOOK THAT UP LATER IN LIFE! This is all to say, I get those reasons for a lack of light-hearted celebration surrounding Thanksgiving. But, by that same token, Christians brought the world the crusades, countless wars, and Joel Osteen and yet we all love Elf.
Maybe another reason for the lack of Thanksgiving movies is that they all feel the same — which is a lazy excuse. Yes, the holiday itself is about cooking and eating dinner with a big group of people. It’s not like there are other traditions to mine from. We don’t sing Thanksgiving carols or give each other wrapped giblets. But think about the many iterations of people that are at any given Thanksgiving gathering. There could be anything from family and friends to coworkers to the stranger being invited to a friend’s family’s Thanksgiving to not having anyone to celebrate with at all. There are a thousand different relationships in those few examples I provided. TV shows get this. There is a Thanksgiving episode in almost every American sitcom and drama. But movies and plays? Not so much.
I have done my scholarly research (remembering movies I have seen) and I am ready to suggest three Thanksgiving-ish movies that are not Planes, Trains, and Automobiles or Pieces of April or even Addam’s Family Values which definitely counts. Are all of these movies “Thanksgiving movies”? Well, no, but I just established that that is hardly a category. Do these movies all have a Thanksgiving scene in them? Yes. And that’s enough right now!
Man of the Year (2006)
I only just watched this political comedy-thriller-drama-nightmare for the first time this year and…oh…my…god. It is horrible and yet super watchable, like a fiery car accident. I couldn’t look away. Robin Williams stars which will automatically lead you to believe that this will be a comedy, but this is 2000s-era Williams. He was doing wacky stuff then from One Hour Photo to Death to Smoochy. He was a wildcard who gave us no guarantees.
This was made in 2006 which is also highly important to UnDeRsTaNd this film. Those were the Bush years where Americans were learning their news primarily from The Daily Show — a fact that is mentioned in the movie no less than three times. Essentially, Williams plays a Jon Stewart-esque political comedy host who suddenly, without any real emotional reflection, runs for president because a fan suggests it. Movie Robin, if a fan suggested that you jump off a bridge would you — yikes, that’s way too dark. Sorry, folks! But that’s what this movie does to you. It all feels like a fucked up premonition of a lot of things to come. That eerie thought aside, we never really know why or if he wants to be president. This movie never gives us an emotional core to any of its characters. I feel like an acting student asking this, but what is their motivation?!?!
So Robin runs for president with the help of his friends/campaign squad/paintball bros played by Christopher Walken and Lewis Black. In what world do these three hang out? In the world of this film, that’s where.
There is only one woman in the movie that has any real part that doesn’t involve laughing at Robin Williams’ jokes and that is Laura Linney. But don’t worry — she will fall for Robin and laugh at his jokes, too. She is a computer whiz — or someone who knows “so much about computers that it’s scary” which feels like a 90s joke, but it’s being made six years after Y2K — who works for the computer company that is in charge of the software being used to count election ballots. She immediately discovers a “glitch in the system” which she tells her bosses about, but they ignore her. Dumb woman knowing things??? No thanks! Annoying! Then it’s election night and Robin wins. AH! Voter fraud!!! Watching this in 2020 is a trippy experience. It feels like this movie was directed by Nostradamus (which might explain some of the shadowy lighting because that dude has never heard of moving pictures before). Please watch it sober or you will join your worst aunt in believing in QAnon.
At the election night party, Laura Linney approaches her boss to ask if he ever got her emails about the glitch. Kind of late at this point. Then Jeff Goldblum LITERALLY EMERGES FROM THE SHADOWS to threaten her in a scene that is almost entirely lit by the actors’ eyeballs. This is when you realize this movie might actually be a horror film??? Where are the lights?
Laura then goes home and hears someone break into her apartment. She decides to do the chill living-by-yourself-as-a-woman move of, say it with me, ignoring it (lol, no way in hell, if I hear a pin drop I am calling an exorcist and my strongest cousin). She turns the volume on her TV all the way up so she can be like “lalala there’s no intruder in my house” and then a masked intruder JUMPS ON HER AND INJECTS HER WITH SOMETHING. The next day she goes to work all shaky and weird. She acts crazy when ordering a cappuccino so, wow, she’s a psycho now. The injection made her loony! We learn that it was filled with a bunch of drugs, including cocaine, which all of her bosses really latch on to for some reason. Coke was literally the least scary-sounding drug in that drug cocktail that a toxicologist rattles off, but sure let’s all be scared of her taking something that makes her feel like she’s a really good dancer.
Okay, back to Robin. He’s president-elect and he immediately proves it by surprising congress by dressing up as George Washington and telling jokes. Hilarious! He has no policies. Then he and his buddies hang out at a party (?) and Laura poses as an FBI agent so she can talk to Robin. She is not crazy, but all of her actions post-drug-injection are certifiably batshit. However, Robin is single and a single president just cannot happen even tho I’m pretty sure a single president would be drowning in sex parts. You just have to approach a potential lover by being like “sup, baby, I’m the president” and listen to their concerns about the government and be like “I’ll make that happen” and then before you know it the two of you (or three of you, tbh, presidential power is strong) are banging. Regardless, Laura soon goes paint-balling with him and his friends and then quickly celebrates Thanksgiving with them which officially makes this a Thanksgiving Movie.
She decides to ruin Thanksgiving by telling Robin about the glitch. Whoops! Save it for pie at least, but whatever. I’m no computer whiz. The movie is not done yet and I’m not done talking about it. Jeff Goldblum and gang are after her, Robin starts to think that she is paranoid, Christopher Walken tries to convince him to ignore her whole ‘you’re not really the president’ thing and just be the president anyway, and then Robin makes a climactic speech on Weekend Update with Tina and Amy in which he tells the nation about the glitch and everything he has learned so far. What. Why. How. That’s the movie.
This IS fully a Thanksgiving movie that hinges on this great plot: daughter brings home new boyfriend to family Thanksgiving and the boyfriend is Pauly Shore. Hilarity and hijinks ensue. Pauly is peak Pauly and Carla Gugino has cool hair. The movie goes like this: Carla is from a farm in South Dakota, but she has been going to school in Los Angeles where she quickly becomes independent and edgy. This is proven by her dying and cutting her hair and getting an ankle tattoo of a butterfly like a true L.A. bad girl. Ooooo, HoLLyWoOd. She wants to prove she is a bad girl now by shaking up her parents (who are probs paying for some of her education, so way to be like ‘fuck you, mom and dad’). The plan? Have Pauly pretend to be her fiancee. She invites Pauly — whose character name is Crawl, by the way — to come home with her for Thanksgiving. He does this because…we don’t really know why…and goes to rural South Dakota where we also find out that she has a boyfriend back home who wants to propose to her. Literally what.
It turns out that “Crawl” is a chill L.A. dude who has a natural knack for farming. Also her dad has a heart attack and Crawl gives him CPR, saving his life and winning the admiration of the entire family. As luck would have it, her boyfriend turns out to be bad because he tries to set Crawl up with Carla’s friend Tracy so that she thinks he is cheating (but…nevermind). Her boyfriend just leaves town after his plan backfires. This feels like too clean of a getaway for Carla. I’m jealous of her ability to get through life trouble-free. I feel like so many other people (movie characters) are allowed to be complete messes, but I have to make my bed everyday and sacrifice my firstborn if I accidentally call someone by the wrong name. What gives? She doesn’t have to reckon with any of her insane behavior. I guess that’s part of her new Los Angeles persona??? At the end of the movie, Carla’s character tries to come clean to her family, but Crawl interrupts her to say they haven’t set a date yet which is supposed to a sneakily romantic way of hinting that he is going to propose to her for real. Awwww! We never see her real boyfriend again, but I want an entire movie that shows all of this from his perspective.
Sweet November (2001)
I have talked about this movie before, but it might be one of my favorite bad movies. It has major manic pixie dream girl vibes where the quirky girl (Charlize Theron) wears knit beanies and mismatched socks to better help her save the life of a corporate drone (Keanu, the one and only) who somehow crosses paths with her and is unhappy enough (read: highly horny) to agree to her proposal of living with her for the entire month of November. What about your rent, Keanu?!? What about your life??? He slowly realizes that being kind of poor, eating delicious food, and taking baths with a beautiful woman who has perfect bone structure is actually the key to happiness. Who knew? There is a huge twist in this movie and it is that while she saves his life…he cannot save hers. She is terminally ill! Dun dun DUN. Wow, BIG twist. It’s kind of like Harold & Maude, but she’s not old and wrinkly (yuck). She’s young and beautiful and dies mysteriously (yum). Question for the class: can men only learn to be happy from women who will die? Discuss.
Since this craptastic romance takes place during the month of November, this counts as a Thanksgiving movie in my book. Gobble gobble.
The canceled CBS sitcom Thanks! about pilgrims. It lasted six episodes in 1999 and I was its sole viewer. Honestly, a sitcom about pilgrims sounds ripe for hilarity. Watching it feels like a fever dream with pilgrims joking about trying outspoken women for being witches or how the skinny girl is not hot because this is ye olden times and Rubenesque bodies are desirable. We then watch the skinny 1990s TV actresses gorge on pie because the joke is that…this way of thinking was wrong and bad? I dunno. It’s what I remember in my impressionable ten-year-old head. I watched a lot of TV and movies as a kid. I am a totally fine person now.
Honestly, this pre-colonial time period was actually terrifying for these settlers and their jokes about it kind of hint at that. I would suggest setting way more things in this very American time period, but they would probably be scary and sad. It makes sense that The Witch is a horror movie.
Have thanks for these movies and enjoy not spending time with weird outer-members of your family. Stay safe, y’all!