Now, I realize that Thanksgiving is technically a very major holiday in the United States, but in the rest of the world it's an afterthought. In this country, however, it's starting to become an afterthought as well. Thanksgiving, to many, is just a nuisance between the fun holidays of Halloween and Christmas (or whatever seasonal celebration they may celebrate.) I mean, we've gotten to the point where the stores are in full Christmastime mode by November 1st every year. When I was a wee lad, the real Christmastime cheer wasn't being spread until after you put away the turkey and dressing.
Every holiday has at least one movie that celebrates it, even some of the more obscure ones. Believe it or not, there are movies about the forgotten holiday of Thanksgiving out there. In fact, you've probably seen many of them, although in retrospect you probably kind of forget they were about Turkey Day to begin with. I've decided to give a brief rundown of five of the most prolific Thanksgiving-Themed movies of all time here, if for anything, to keep myself from getting too excited and Christmasizing this website a few days too early. So polish off your plate of turkey and cranberry sauce, and head out to your local video hole to grab one of these fine Thanksgiving movies.
PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES (1987, dir. John Hughes)
The quintessential Thanksgiving movie is this terrific comedy from John Hughes. Steve Martin stars in this film, wedged right in the middle of his string of can't miss comedies from the late 80's, including THREE AMIGOS!, ROXANNE, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, PARENTHOOD, and MY BLUE HEAVEN. It also stars the late John Candy, who was also on a pretty hot streak at this point. In this film, Martin plays a businessman who just wants to get home to his family on Thanksgiving, but just can't seem to catch a break. Worse for him, he's stuck with an obnoxious traveling salesman as a traveling companion. It's funny, charming, and even jerks an occasional tear. The performances of the leads sure help. Also, Kevin Bacon is featured in a very funny cameo, making this film quite a nice stepping stone for players of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game.
DUTCH (1991, dir. Peter Fairman)
John Hughes must have enjoyed the success of PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES, because he used a similair formula here when he wrote the story that became DUTCH. Ed O'Neill takes a break from his role as Al Bundy to play a the title character, sent by his girlfriend to pick up her son from a prep school and drive him home for Turkey Day. Of course, the kid, played by a much younger Ethan Embry, is about as obnoxious as they come. He pulls the kinds of stunts you can only imagine in order to get under the skin of Dutch, and, as you can probably imagine, the two wind up becoming friends in the end. Yeah, basically, it's a new twist on the other John Hughes-written movie in this article, but this movie is a lot better than it might seem at first glance.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1995, dir. Holly Hunter)
Jodie Foster followed up her critically-acclaimed directorial debut LITTLE MAN TATE with this dramedy about a a woman who finds out just after everything in her life has seemingly fallen apart that she has to spend Thanksgiving with her family. Holly Hunter stars, and is supported by an all-star ensemble cast, including Claire Danes, Robert Downey Jr, Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, and Dylan McDermott. The way the characters interact is key to this movie actually working, and fortunately with such strong acting chops behind them, everything seems to work out pretty well. Anyone who has had to spend a holiday with their family is bound to be able to relate to the situation displayed here.
THE ICE STORM (1997, dir. Ang Lee)
A slightly much more somber film than the last few we mentioned, THE ICE STORM is a stark and gritty drama set around Thanksgiving in 1973. The second American feature from Ang Lee, THE ICE STORM was praised by critics worldwide but failed to receive any major Academy Award nominations despite predictions to the contrary. A powerful ensemble cast including Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, and Elijah Wood show the lives of several married couples in the suburban wastelands of Connecticut, dealing with such adult themes as alcoholism, adultery, and even wife-swapping. This dark film shows the reality of these subjects not only for the adults, but for the indifferent children who are unwitting byproducts. Definitely not one for the lighthearted family outing, but an excellent Thanksgiving movie.
THE HOUSE OF YES 1997, dir. Mark S. Waters)
This controversial film, based on a play by Wendy MacLeod, explores a subject that has been a taboo in Hollywood for some time: incest. Indy film queen Parker Posey stars as Jackie-O, the black sheep of a family that ain't exactly the Cleavers to begin with. Jackie-O went insane some years ago and has an obsession with Jackie Onassis-Kennedy, and is vindictive and jealous of her twin brother Marty, who happens to be home for Turkey Day. A secret relationship between the two is revealed, while her younger brother (Freddie Prinze Jr. in his one good acting role) tries to get it on with Marty's fiancee Lesly (Tori Spelling showing why that film career didn't quite take off). Presented like a black comedy, this is a brilliant film that's not really cut out for the faint of heart.
So while Thanksgiving movies may not exist in the multitudes that films regarding the big December holiday abound, they're still out there. All five of these films are recommended to anyone looking for a Turkey Day movie that's not a turkey. Of course, if you're like most people, you'll just skip the Thanksgiving movies and jump right in to the christmas movies. Hell, the Superstation has already played A CHRISTMAS STORY half a dozen times this year and it's still a month until Christmas. But don't worry, MCFTR will be festive by Friday of this week, so prepare for some good Holiday fun for the winter months.