What’s not to like about Thanksgiving?
Well, a number of things actually.
- Your cousin who is always starting heated political debates.
- Bad yams.
- This question: “So, when are you gonna get a real job?”
- Or this question: “When are you two gonna settle down and have kids?”
- Dinner discussion about gas mileage people are getting on their cars.
- Not enough chairs so you end up having to share a piano bench with a nephew who thinks farting is really, really funny. And he’s in his 20s.
I was at a friend’s family Thanksgiving dinner once where one of the guests was telling us how the world is actually flat and it’s a giant conspiracy to keep this from people. I started laughing and then realized that this was one of those situations where he does this every year, is serious about it, and challenging him on it only makes it worse. Everything went uncomfortably silent for a few minutes until someone finally said something about the gas mileage they were getting on their car and we all felt much better.
Despite all this, I genuinely love Thanksgiving. It’s a very American holiday. You can celebrate it any way you want, and the whole idea of getting together, eating a lot, and feeling grateful another year has passed is completely wonderful.
So how about gathering in the living room after the meal, food comas and all, and watching a movie or two that you may have forgotten were set on Thanksgiving? Here are my four favorites.
Remember AOL? I do. Barely. Yet, twenty years ago, everyone used AOL, including the romantically-challenged characters in this gem. Here’s a classic by-the-numbers romantic comedy from The Ephrons. Nora Ephron directed, and she co-wrote the screenplay with her sister Delia. Nora worked with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan once before in another unlikely-romance movie, Sleepless in Seattle, and clearly brings that expertise to heel in You’ve Got Mail. The Thanksgiving scene here? Meg Ryan realizes too late she is in a cash-only line at a crowded supermarket the night before Thanksgiving, and she has only a credit card. Everyone is angry with her until she is rescued by Tom Hanks, who charms the clerk into letting Meg Ryan use her credit card. It’s adorable. But seriously, who is going to say no to Tom Hanks?
The big screen version of the ‘60s TV series wasn’t quite as amusing or clever, but it does feature a great cast, including Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Joan Cusack, Christina Ricci, Christopher Lloyd, and Carol Kane. The Thanksgiving scene? The Addams family ruins the town’s Thanksgiving pageant by having the Native Americans rise up against their oppressors and torch the village. Very unfortunate. But funny.
Ang Lee’s brilliant adaptation of the acclaimed Rick Moody novel of the same name, this tells the story of the fracturing of a WASP-y American family during the Thanksgiving weekend of 1973. Generational alienation, adultery, and moral collapse are the themes of this bleak movie. Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Christina Ricci, Joan Allen, Elijah Wood and Tobey Maguire round out a spectacular cast. An outstanding movie, but maybe not a feel-good holiday film. It’s serious-minded and powerful.
Another gem from Ang Lee, this movie drew enormous attention at the time of its release as the first major American studio movie that had a gay love story at its center. As the novelty of that has worn off, the deeply human nature of the story of two men who fall in love while already married to women, takes center stage. The Thanksgiving moment in this movie is a searing scene between Ennis (Heath Ledger) and his wife Alma (Michelle Williams) in which she confronts him about his relationship with Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) as they’re cleaning up after Thanksgiving dinner. It’s as heartbreaking and gut-wrenching scene as you’ll see in American film.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.