Thanksgiving Sisflix: Will Someone Please Pass the DVD?

by margaret on November 20, 2008

IT SEEMS that any Thanksgiving movie is also, without fail, a sister movie: two sisters, brothers and sisters, or mothers of sisters with their girls. When family gathers, siblings of every stripe are part of the picture, and hilarity (or desperation) tends to follow. For those making any version of sister connection this holiday, we’re serving up an order of films that might make you appreciate your own family’s brand of dysfunction. Somebody please pass the DVD.

Eliza (Hope Davis) thinks she is happily married to Louis (Stanley Tucci). When she finds a mysterious love letter to her husband, she and her whole family (including her sister, Jo, played by Parker Posey) leave their suburban lives behind to venture into the Big City in a station wagon to try to learn the truth.

OK, so this Sarah Jessica Parker movie takes place over Christmas, not Thanksgiving. No matter–the family dynamics are the same, whatever the major holiday. And though the film packs in plenty of implausibility, it’s worth seeing a decidedly non-Sex and the City SJP as the uptight girlfriend of Dermot Mulroney, and Claire Danes in action as her scene and guy-stealing sister.

It might not be the best sister movie ever, but then again, it just might be. Hannah (Mia Farrow), and her sisters (Dianne Wiest and Barbara Hershey), eat, talk, laugh, kvetch their way through every permutation of love and relationship in yet another Woody Allen (pre-creepy-stepdaughter-marrying days) love letter to Manhattan. Sit back, and enjoy the ride.

From Janet Maslin’s New York Times review:

“When Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) goes from Chicago to Baltimore to visit her family for Thanksgiving, her parents (Charles Durning and Anne Bancroft) are poised at the airport gate, ready to film her arrival with their video camera. ‘I can see your roots, Claudia,’ her mother whispers sweetly during the car ride home. The car is marooned in traffic just then, so Claudia peers longingly into a neighboring car. A stranger, apparently another adult child who has just been nabbed by his parents, is mouthing a cry for help.”

It’s not that you can’t go home again, it’s that sometimes, you HAVE to. Holly Hunter? Jodie Foster directing? Just say yes.

This oddball send-up of more traditional “home for the holidays” films is bizarre as only an incest comedy can be. What would Thanksgiving be without Tori Spelling and a little brotherly-sisterly love?

Is this the darkest family drama ever made? Maybe not, but it goes up in the pantheon with Ordinary People. It’s Thanksgiving 1973, and Tobey Maguire and Christina Ricci’s suburban family is frozen and falling to pieces. A perfect film by the eerily brilliant Ang Lee.

You think your parents are uptight? Ha! I’ll see that frosty reception to your new boyfriend, and raise you one. Bart Freundlich (aka Mr. Julianne Moore) shows you just how mean bluebloods can be. What else do you expect on Thanksgiving?

Pieces of April•PIECES OF APRIL
This is the one to see if you’re experiencing Thanksgiving Dinner performance anxiety. Even rebellious downtown girl April (Katie Holmes) is stressed out about cooking turkey for her uptight suburban family. It doesn’t help that her mom might be dying. A quirky, touching and surprising little film.

Admittedly, this has nothing to do with Thanksgiving. But don’t you always want to watch Jane Austen with your sisters? This is the best of the best, whether you’ve seen it a million times, or never. Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson (who also wrote it) are so totally brilliant as the Dashwood sisters that you may never tolerate another BBC Austen-fest again. The second perfect Ang Lee film on this list. And the men? Hunky Greg Wise? Irresistibly rakish and charming Hugh Grant? Sigh.

It seems that for Americans of every ethnicity, Thanksgiving means sports on TV for the men, and lots of cooking for the women. Anglo-Indian director Gurinder Chaha gives a loving and lush look at four L.A. families celebrating the holiday with all the angst and appetite required. Whether you do the holiday with mac ‘n cheese, spring rolls, tamales or sweet potatoes on the side, it’s all here in this odd little dish of a film.–Paige Smith Orloff

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Shaw November 26, 2008 at 6:01 pm

I had forgotton that “Hannah and her Sisters” was a Thanksgiving movie. I felt like I had become a real New Yorker when I started going to Hanukah parties and seders (I was always invited for Thanksgiving but never made it) at my friend Suzy Slesin’s rambling apartment on Park Avenue, which made me feel like I was living my own version of “Hannah and Her Sisters”
And I loved “What’s Cooking,” which is such an earnest yet evocative film.

Dan Shaw November 27, 2008 at 8:00 am

I woke up with another Thanksgiving movie memory that involves my sister. When we were about 10 and 7, while my dad and friends were watching football and mom was cooking dinner, we went to my parents bedroom to watch the small black and white TV on their dresser. This was the days when the dial on the TV went from 2 -13 and Channels 9 and 11 always showed movies. By accident, we came upon “Miracle on 34th Street” by accident. I am not sure where we came in. but were were transfixed, sitting there on the edge of the bed in the darkened room on the 13 inch TV. At the end of the movie, we were both in tears. We went down to the kitchen and my mother was shocked to see our reddened eyes and faces. I watch that movie every year and I always feel my sister beside me.

orloff November 27, 2008 at 10:44 am

Again, your sister memories continue to move me! And–we have you to thank for having “What’s Cooking” on the list–I had completely forgotten about it until you reminded me. When we do a Christmas list, “Miracle” will definitely have to make an appearance.

Priscilla November 30, 2008 at 9:03 am

Yes! “The House of Yes “-Oh please, if everyone around here is going to start telling the truth, I’m going to bed.

orloff November 30, 2008 at 11:51 pm

Welcome, Priscilla–great quote! Let us know if you think of anything we left out, movie-wise…

Leave a Comment