Resident Movies ‘n’ Mashed Potatoes Machine Mark Hay is back with three films to enjoy in that post-turkey stupor.
Thanksgiving approaches quickly and many of you will be returning to your families. Bwog sympathizes with those of you who will be returning to dysfunction, disorder and other such unpleasantness. So in the spirit of the holiday, Bwog presents a list of three great Thanksgiving movies – two of which feature a pre-Tom Cruise insanity Katie Holmes. Oh, the good old days.
The Ice Storm (1997)
This Thanksgiving, when you feel the dysfunction of your family dawning upon you, watch Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm and give thanks that (one would hope) your family is not such a frigid caricature of searching boredom and impending self-implosion as the two in this film. Set in the wake of the Watergate scandal and the confusing aftermath of the sexual revolution, Lee’s melancholic family portrait depicts the self-serving quests of many individuals lost in a new world. These bumbling and broken individuals, forced together by the promise of turkey and gravy, crash into each other, shaking the brittle crystal of their strained lives and initiating the inevitable explosion that accompanies any family reunion.
Lee recounts the interactions of two families, the Carver and Hood families, just before and after turkey day. The cast is vast and the webs between them complex – a twisted structure whose own jerry-rigged design seems to foretell its own doom. Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) engages in adultery with Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver) while his fourteen year-old daughter, Wendy (Christina Ricci), explores sex and rebellion with Mikey Carver (Elijah Wood). Meanwhile, mother Elena Hood (Joan Allen), starved for experience, emulates her daughter’s flirtations, becoming cozy with a rather loose minister, as her son Paul (Tobey Maguire) pursues his amorous desires towards yuppie classmate Libbets Casey (Katie Holmes). And as they all move amongst and against each other, desperately trying and failing to feel, something physical grows from their cold souls as an early winter storm descends on New Canaan, CT. Trapped in their own icy prisons, the characters disintegrate into self-pity, regret and eventually a shocking death.
Watching The Ice Storm is all about waiting for the branches to snap under the weight of the snow. It is all about waiting for the tree to fall, knowing that it must, and watching helplessly as it does. Heart wrenching and cold with only the slight hope of redemption, this is the perfect film to fuel your holiday blues.
Pieces of April (2003)
Or perhaps you are hoping to become independent, to prove yourself an adult and capable person, this Thanksgiving. Peter Hedges’ Pieces of April, a quick and dirty production shot in under a month, may not be the greatest movie known to man – and indeed many of its plot points are rather hackneyed and half-baked – but it does feel your pain and delivers a real sense of the hyperbolic perceptions one might have of their old, stick-in-the-mud family, their new, hectic and unsure life, and the world they inhabit as they attempt to hack it on their own.
April Burns (Katie Holmes) is the estranged young daughter, coming out of some sort of grungy, independent fall-from-grace period and into control of her own life. With the help of her boyfriend, Bobby (Derek Luke), she intends to invite her estranged suburban family to her squalid New York apartment to prove that she can throw them a thanksgiving feast all by herself. The story is composed of April’s desperate bid to pull together a dinner, Bobby’s shady and somewhat pointless secret mission through New York, and the Burns family’s trip into the city, itself colored by the rather overused characters of the jaded and dying mother (Patricia Clarkson), the dithering one-liner grandmother (Alice Drummond), and the oblivious father (Oliver Platt). Culminating in a rather awkward, delayed and anticlimactic dinner sequence, Hedges’ film is at least somewhat more hopeful than The Ice Storm.
Yes, it falls back on clichés. Yes, it relies on one-liners and some out-of-place humor and unfinished or uncooked concepts. Yes, it feels abrupt and strange and a bit thin at times. But one still feels a great affinity for and identity with April and Bobby, at least. And seeing the world through the eyes of the characters, the strained story begins to make sense. On many counts a failure, but in creating a movie that accurately encapsulates the hurried doubt of a newly formed independent life and effectively makes one live inside of such a character, Pieces of April is ultimately a success and a source of compassion and inspiration for many a bourgeoning New Yorker.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
Looking back on this film, it is sad to think how commonplace this supposedly absurd saga of travel, detours, and the desperate attempt to return home for Thanksgiving has become in our world. This John Hughes triumph is a buddy movie and a travel movie, yes, but not quite so rote and pointless as other products of such genres in recent years. Rather, this is a film that, while memorable mainly as a comedy (“those aren’t pillows!” and the famous speech composed mainly of variations on “fuck” are truly fantastic moments of comedic timing and skill), packs some real meat on its bones.
Uptight businessman Neal Page (Steve Martin) just wants to get home for Thanksgiving, but his plans are interrupted when a blizzard grounds his Chicago-bound plane in Wichita. Here he teams up with the bumbling, sweet, but tragically inept shower-ring salesman who accidentally stole his taxi in New York, Del Griffith (John Candy) in a desperate bid to get back to Chicago by any means necessary. Along the way they lose their money, get roped into ridiculous situations, and many other trite and silly things that only the skill of two such great actors could pull off. But they also change as characters in ways both meaningful and believable, and the revelations of understanding and empathy that culminate between Neal and Del by the film’s end are honestly touching.
This really sets the film apart form other pieces of silly humor and some of the more dead-in-the-water attempts by Candy and Martin. The two men play, here, upon their own natures, pulling a part of themselves into their comedy, and as such create truly empathetic and dynamic characters. And no, there’s none of that dysfunction and strain here as in the previous two films. This film is all about redemption and humor and a good, warm feeling in the pit of your stomach – the perfect nightcap to heal all other wounds and doubts opened by a list of Thanksgiving movies.