The typical American catharsis from the movie Thanksgiving

Christmas movies run the gamut of romantic comedies (Last holidays) action films (Die hard) to cheerfully saucy comedies (Bad santa claus). But there’s really only one type of Thanksgiving movie: dysfunctional family drama.

They are films about family feuds, reconciliations and revelations, and they constitute what the late critic Roger Ebert has called “a quintessentially North American group of films.” From young people reinventing and reorienting culinary traditions in front of their horrified elders, to travel nightmares and the long-suppressed grievances and traumas that surface, Thanksgiving cinema can be both tumultuous and frightening. The best examples of the genre, however, usually manage to combine the two into relatable stories that reflect and allay our universal vacation anxieties.

A recurring theme is the tension between the generations. In April songs (2003), Katie Holmes stars as April, a New Yorker in her twenties who drags her terminally ill mother, as well as her father, brothers and grandmother, from Northern Ontario. State for Thanksgiving dinner in town. The film captures a certain indelible angst only in their twenties of having inherited family traditions, recreating the conventions of suburban vacations in cramped city apartments and the scale of the operation required to serve the expected feast.

April is the black sheep of the family and her oven breaks down at the start of the film; a part of April songsIn the best scenes, she plaintively knocks on her neighbors’ door to ask for help. To make matters worse, April’s family appear to have only made the trip to town to ultimately avoid spending more time with them. “That way, instead of April showing up with a new piercing or an ugly new tattoo and, God forbid, spends the night… we’re on our way home,” said the mother of April, Joy (played by scene thief Patricia Clarkson) in the car. A bait and switch subplot about April’s boyfriend, Bobby (Derek Luke), who is black, hasn’t aged well at all, but this represents another of the main Thanksgiving stressors: introduce a new partner to the family.

Krisha (2015) is another family black sheep movie, although it is not a comedy. At times almost unbearably tense, it revolves around the homecoming of the main character, a 60+ year old alcoholic (Krisha Fairchild), for Thanksgiving, where she has promised to cook turkey for her huge and skeptical clan. Director Trey Edward Shults (who would later direct the stunning post-apocalypse film It comes at night) mainly chose her own non-professional family members and filmed at her parents’ house in Texas. The truth style is baffling and confusing, heightened by the intrusive score of a horror film. Krisha is a tormented soul and her family’s mistrust of her seems well deserved. For anyone who has seen a family member become addicted to drugs, Krisha will make viewing particularly uncomfortable.

Immigrants and historically marginalized people – not all of whom would be inclined to patriotic celebrations – also fall under the Thanksgiving genre. What is cooking? (2000) is a turn-of-the-century time capsule that depicts the secrets and struggles of four loosely related families: a black, a Latino, a Jewish, and a Vietnamese-American. In every family, someone struggles to be accepted: Michael (Eric George) lost the affection of his father (Dennis Haysbert) when he dropped out of Stanford business school and prepared to pursue an African education -american to Howard. Gina (Isidra Vega) brings her Vietnamese-American boyfriend Jimmy (Will Yun Lee) home to meet his family, while Jimmy skips the holidays with his strict immigrant parents, who struggle to assimilate their children into the culture. American. Carla (Juliana Margulies) and Rachel (Kyra Sedgwick) are a lesbian couple still forced to sleep in beds separated by Rachel’s conservative parents.

What is cooking? turns into tired melodrama in the final act, but it remains notable for how it skillfully foreshadows contemporary culture wars. There are closed lesbians, uncomfortable ebony talks, interracial couples, and a reactionary California governor who wants to crack down on immigration and welfare cheaters (presumably based on Republican Pete Wilson, who signed the infamous State Proposition 187 in 1994). It’s also a reminder that the tense holiday dinner conversation didn’t start with former President Donald Trump. And beneath the film’s simmering Y2K politics, there are human beings who want to be accepted, loved, and forgiven by those closest to them.

In What to cook ?, Like many Thanksgiving movies, the dreaded vacation journey takes place mostly offscreen before the live action begins. A movie that stands out only for the “getting there” aspect of Thanksgiving is the legendary comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987). Marketing manager Neal (Steve Martin) returns home to Chicago for Thanksgiving after a business trip to New York when he meets Del (John Candy), a shower curtain salesman (!) Who steals Neal’s cab. at LaGuardia Airport. Their destinies intertwine over and over again as their flight is diverted to Wichita, their train to St. Louis breaks down and their adventure unfolds in an even more hilarious way. Known to some primarily for the iconic scene in which Neal berates a rental car agent with an expletive request for a vehicle, all vehicle, the film speaks to anyone who experiences growing anxiety about crowded vacation airports, long lines, and the ever-present threat of being stranded in the middle of nowhere with bad weather or bad weather. misfortune.

What is a classic of the Thanksgiving genre is, of course, a take on bird fighting: scorched turkeys, turkeys falling to the ground, undercooked turkeys, and arguing over whether the turkey is done, all in the service of a creature that really does require extraordinary effort not to taste like expensive cardboard. “Look at all the work just to give the food flavor”, launches the Vietnamese grandmother (Kieu Chinh) in What is cooking?. Generations of American chefs enlisted in the turkey service may sympathize.

In Home for the holidays (1995), the hapless turkey ends up spilling over onto Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), the homophobic sister of the main character, Claudia (Holly Hunter). Freshly laid off Chicago single mom – Chicago is in so many of these movies, perhaps because of legendary winter delays at O’Hare International Airport – Claudia returns to Baltimore for Thanksgiving with her parents, sister, and brother. Sibling rivalry dominates the film, which revolves around Claudia’s brother Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr.), who brought in his friend Leo (Dylan McDermott) as a trick to avoid telling his parents about his recent marriage to Jack ( Sam Slovick). Like so many dysfunctional family dramas, the real tension in Home for the holidays is between relatives who find it difficult to accept that people who share their DNA have made such divergent life choices.

What these movies, and the many others on Thanksgiving, illustrate is how a party meant to cement family bonds often has the unintended effect of unraveling them.

Even if you come from a loving and functioning family with no history of trauma or resentment, you will recognize some of the inevitable stresses of traveling long distances to cram into a house together, while trying not to let the brevity reunions put too much pressure on everyone to enjoy it. It’s not really the policy that many people find the most taxing about vacation gatherings, but the difficulty of finding time and space for oneself, and fending off endless comments about who’s taken or lost. weight, when you are going to have children or have more children or get married – in other words, the difficulty of dealing with a multitude of inquiries while everyone is asking when you will become what you should rather be than accepting who you really are.

Watching his son and son-in-law engage in a ridiculous brawl on the lawn, the emotionally deaf family patriarch of Home for the holidays, played by Charles Durning, turns to the shocked neighbors and says, “Go back to your own god vacation — ed.” This is, in the end, the emotion that these films are probably designed to evoke. And after nearly two years of pandemic restrictions, we may even show additional appreciation for the days when we to do have together.

And maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll feel less like April’s sardonic and distant mom and more like Claudia (Anne Bancroft), who hovers in tears outside the airport gate at the airport. end of the movie. “There’s never enough time, right? That’s what I hate about planes,” she told her husband. “I don’t think I’ll ever see my kids again.”

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