Oh, how I long for the days where I could argue with my best friend in person. How magnificent it’ll feel to see the look on her face after making fun of her in real time, without the eight-second lag and frozen Zoom screen. Glorious.
Nicol Paone’s film “Friendsgiving” captures this nostalgia for those beautiful pre-COVID times where large gatherings and face-to-face connection were still possible. The film’s crowded dinner table and packed kitchen managed to bring me back to November of 2019. (What a time!) A majority-female cast, a female-centered story and female writer-director also served as a hopeful reminder of the slow, yet persistent progress to close the gender gap in the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, that is the extent to which I can praise this film. While “Friendsgiving” aspires to capture love and camaraderie among friends, the film feels more like a caricature of Los Angelenos and a shallow attempt at showing real relationships. I strongly recommend that you do not spend your precious time or money on this unfulfilling nod to friendsgiving, a holiday that shall remain sacred.
The dramatic-comedy centers around Hollywood actress Molly (Malin Akerman) and her best friend Abby (Kat Dennings) as they deal with their recent heartbreaks in the midst of the holiday season. Molly is recently divorced with a newborn child, and Abby, who came out as a lesbian at age 30, has just been dumped by her first girlfriend. Both agree to a casual Thanksgiving dinner with just the two of them, but when Molly invites her new boyfriend Jeff (Jack Donelly), the cracks in their friendship are exposed, the floodgates open and the steady stream of colorful guests begins.
We meet the recently-certified shaman Claire (Chelsea Peretti), along with obnoxiously superficial Rick and his wife Brianne (Christine Taylor), who is incapable of speech due to Botox overkill. Each brings a different level of stereotypical Hollywood to the dinner table, and each characters’ relation to the hosts is more ambiguous than the last.
Molly’s cougar mother Helen (Jane Seymour) makes a surprise appearance, criticizing Molly’s handling of her divorce, raising of her newborn and hosting of the Thanksgiving gathering. By the end of the hour-and-a-half, we are left with the relatively mended pieces of Molly and Abby’s relationship, Molly and Helen’s relationship and a heaping serving of dissatisfaction. The moments intended to be dramatic fall flat due to the lack of context and backstory. Oh yes, and somewhere in the midst of the shenanigans, Abby does shrooms and sees her “fairy gay mothers” played by Wanda Sykes, Fortune Feimster and Margaret Cho.
It is no surprise that with the introduction of so many characters and complicated relationships, not one of them is examined beyond its surface. The chemistry between Molly and Abby, who are supposedly best friends, is non-existent, which is especially disappointing for a film about friendship. The movie poster, a photoshopped collage of the characters’ faces, reveals a lot about its subjects: they are two-dimensional, and while they occupy the same space, they don’t actually interact. There is a vague college reunion feel, yet we never really get any explanation as to how any of the attendees ended up at Molly and Abby’s dinner.
Many of the supporting characters take on a likeness to caricatures of typical Hollywood personalities. Chelsea Peretti, whose priceless comedic arrogance on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” attracted me to this movie in the first place, portrays a blatantly cartoon-like, inner-peace-obsessed hippie whoses only personality trait is being a shaman. Christine Taylor, whose humor complemented “Friends,” “The Wedding Singer” and “Zoolander,” does not even have any dialogue. These actors and characters had potential to intensify the hilarity and deepen the film, yet they were quite underutilized. Even Molly, whom the entire story revolves around, is difficult to empathize with. I felt no investment in any of her struggles because the writing was not rooted in any consistent characterization.
If you find this adamant criticism of an innocent Thanksgiving movie unnecessary, you are not wrong. But Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year (unpopular opinion, I know), and us Thanksgiving die-hards deserve a solid movie to accurately reflect the joys and miseries and family and friends that are so embedded in this day. “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” practically raised me, and “Elf” taught me how to spread Christmas cheer, so it is high time that Hollywood grace us with the production of a good Thanksgiving film. As of right now, my list of Thanksgiving classics consists of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and the classic “Friends” episode “The One with the Football.” If you are looking for a cringeworthy Thanksgiving movie that will leave you unfulfilled, perhaps to put on while folding laundry or vacuuming your floors, then go right ahead. Be my guest and watch this film. As for my watch-list, however, “Friendsgiving” will not be securing a spot.