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Dinner with friends – ‘Friendsgiving’

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Thanksgiving has always been a bit of a forgotten holiday when it comes to movies. Halloween’s got the horror genre on lockdown – not to mention its own named franchise – and Christmas, well … you don’t need to tell me that there are a lot of Christmas movies out there. But Thanksgiving has always been a bit adrift in terms of cinema – for whatever reason, it just doesn’t have the wider cultural relevance of its bookending holidays.

That doesn’t mean we don’t still see some Thanksgiving films, though. The latest entry into the genre is “Friendsgiving,” an indie comedy by first-time feature writer-director Nicol Paone. Featuring a star-studded cast, the film takes a look at two friends struggling to deal with the changes in their lives, dealing with their new realities in very different – and equally unhealthy – ways.

It’s also a very funny look at how the holidays have very different impacts on different people, as well as how our blood relations aren’t necessarily as close to us as the chosen families we assemble from our nearest and dearest friends. It’s goofy and light and occasionally poignant – all in service of the spirit of togetherness that is, at its core, the whole point of Thanksgiving.

Molly (Malin Akerman, “The Sleepover”) is a relatively successful actress, having recently starred in a successful film. However, she’s also going through a divorce – her husband left her, though the papers haven’t been officially filed – and is raising a new baby solo. Her longtime best friend Abby (Kat Dennings, TV’s “Dollface”) is also struggling; she’s a late-blooming lesbian whose first real long-term relationship ended almost a year ago, but she’s still hung up on her ex. The plan is for the two of them to celebrate a low-key Thanksgiving holiday, just the two of them.

But plans go awry.

First, there’s Jeff (Jack Donnelly, “A Royal Winter”), Molly’s sweet and mildly dim rebound guy; she winds up inviting him to join them for dinner. From there, it snowballs, with assorted friends being invited to join them. There’s Lauren (Aisha Tyler, TV’s “Archer”) and Dan (Deon Cole, TV “Black-ish”), a married couple with two kids looking for any excuse to let loose. There’s another hipster Hollywood couple – blowhard Rick (Andrew Santino, TV’s “Dave”) and recently-Botoxed Brianne (Christine Taylor, TV’s “Search Party”). And there’s newly-minted shaman (sorry, shawoman) Claire (Chelsea Peretti, “The Photograph”).

All that, plus Molly’s serial-marrying Swedish mother Helen (Jane Seymour, “The War with Grandpa”) turns up unexpectedly – and she’s invited Molly’s ex-boyfriend Gunnar (Ryan Hansen, “Fantasy Island”) to the party as well.

What follows is a mishmash of assorted interpersonal dramas and misunderstandings, fueled by booze and as both Molly and Abby are forced through circumstances to give real consideration their choices – the bad ones and the good ones alike. And as the evening progresses, both women are left to think about whether their current paths are the correct ones.

Oh, and Margaret Cho, Wanda Sykes and Fortune Feimster show up as a trio of Fairy Gay Mothers – can’t forget that.

“Friendsgiving” is a lovely small-scale comedy, one driven by character and operating with relatively low stakes. There’s a breeziness to it, a simplicity that leaves space for the film’s easygoing charm even as it also has some fun with the general unevenness of the assorted relationships.

It’s those relationships that really hold the film together. From the central defining friendship to the spiderweb of connections between the various people on the scene, it’s an engaging breakdown of what it means to be friends, what it means to be family … and what it means when they’re more or less the same thing.

For a first feature out of the gate, it is a strong showing from Nicol Paone. She’s got an ear for dialogue and an acute understanding of relationship dynamics – though the script does meander a bit in a couple of spots. And despite this being her first foray behind the camera, she acquits herself well – keeping things largely contained to one spot was smart, and she makes some interesting choices. Some missteps as well, but those are fairly few and far between.

The fact that she had a gifted and trustworthy ensemble at her disposal certainly helps as well. This is a deep group, one that clearly fed off one another in a positive manner. Akerman is an underrated comedic performer, someone who doesn’t get a ton of credit for her talent; this is a great part for her, allowing her a bit of a character showcase. Ditto Dennings, who is another actor who doesn’t get the notice she perhaps should. She exudes her usual brashness here, but also allows a little room for her to show some vulnerability. And their dynamic, with all its ups and downs, rings very true – their chemistry is quite good.

And the rest of the cast – man. These folks are both talented and legitimately jazzed to be here, and as you might imagine, that’s a formula for positive results. Tyler and Cole are a great pairing and a great part of the ensemble, though I found myself wishing they had a little more to do. Santino and Taylor bring just the right amount of smug pretension. Hansen exudes big d-bag energy and Donnelly is a charmingly affable dope. Seymour is delightfully weird with her cougar vibes and inexplicable accent. And Peretti goes HARD in her scenes in the best way.

“Friendsgiving” is a fun movie about friendship and family and what it means when one becomes the other. It’s a satisfying snack of a movie, the kind of cinematic comfort food that feels rather nice to consume right now. In its own terms, it’s not the turkey, but neither is it the vegan casserole that no one wants. It’s the pie – and who doesn’t enjoy pie?

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Friday, 23 October 2020 15:23

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