5 Thanksgiving Comedy-Dramas to Get You in the Mood for Holiday Cheer

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What is your vision of an enjoyable family Thanksgiving dinner?  Perhaps the crisp, colorful fall day has relatives shaking off the cold as they enter your festive home warmed by a crackling fire, tantalizing aromas and a perfectly roasted turkey ready to be carved.  Or maybe not.  If you haven’t seen your relatives for months, do you end up gathering to feast or fight or both?  Does this sudden intimacy make you proud to share your adult accomplishments with the group or feel like you should be sitting at the children’s table?

Sometimes the best way out of a prickly situation is to step back, laugh and accept your family as they are now, not as you want them to be.  Let’s review five Thanksgiving comedy-dramas (Home for the Holidays, The House of Yes,  Pieces of April, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and What's Cooking) that may help you prepare for the holiday and leave you appreciating that your kin might not be that bad after all.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin, Patron Saint of the Thanksgiving Homeward Bound. Image: Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

Home for the Holidays (1995) 

Just laid off from her museum job as an art restorer, Claudia (Holly Hunter) returns to her aging parents’ Baltimore home without her only daughter who has stayed behind to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time.  Her gay brother Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr.) shows up without his long-time partner Jack and brings a new man Leo (Dylan McDermott).  Her resentful sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson) comes with her uptight banker husband and their two disagreeable children.  Then there is eccentric Aunt Gladys (Geraldine Chaplin) to round out a perfect set up for heated arguments amid the feasting and frustration.  

The House of Yes (1997)

If you enjoy dark, biting satire, you’ll love this twisted tale about adult twins (Josh Hamilton, Parker Posey) who have a special relationship, their mother (Genevieve Bujold) and their slacker baby brother Anthony (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), who lives at home making sure his sister takes her meds.  Twin son Marty shows up at the beautiful family mansion with his unannounced fiance Lesly (Tori Spelling) on Thanksgiving Day, 20 years after the Kennedy assassination.  Fragile and tempestuous, his twin sister Jacky-O, recently released from a mental hospital, tries to stay calm while wearing her favorite pink outfit, just like Jackie Kennedy’s on the day her husband was shot.  It’s kind of like the Bates family before mom bought the motel.  

Pieces of April (2003) 

An estranged daughter April (Katie Holmes), living in a lower Manhattan tenement with her boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke), invites her parents (Patricia Clarkson in an award-winning performance, Oliver Platt) to Thanksgiving dinner when the oven goes out.  With many laughs and heartbreaking tears, the film focuses on the holiday’s challenges. Bobby has to find a suit to make a good impression on the parents.  Her parents have to make frequent stops for donuts, bathroom breaks and an occasional joint on their trek from the suburbs.  April has to find a way to cook the turkey dinner in what may be her last visit with her mother, who is dying of breast cancer.  

Planes, Trains and Automobiles  (1987)

John Hughes’ classic comedy of errors stars Steve Martin and John Candy. The film shows how an uptight marketing executive attempts to return home from New York to Chicago to share Thanksgiving with his family.  What should have been a quick two-hour flight turns into a three-day ordeal that is thwarted at every turn by Midwest weather and an obnoxious, but lovable motor-mouth shower curtain ring salesman.  Anyone who has traveled on holidays will sympathize after they stop laughing.

What’s Cooking (2000) 

Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha, a London-raised Punjabi Sikh with a global perspective, set out to make a movie that would help Europeans understand the diverse fabric of American society through family, food and feasting.  Set in LA’s middle-class Fairfax District, four neighboring families of Vietnamese (Joan Chen), Cuban (Mercedes Ruehl), Jewish (Kyra Sedwick, Julianna Margulies) and African-American (Alfre Woodward, Dennis Haysbert) heritage celebrate Thanksgiving each in their own way by adding their ethnic foods and flavors to the turkey dinner while resolving family crises. They have similar trials and tribulations, but each family handles them in their own way.  This film proves that we are all unique and we are all one. 

Happy Thanksgiving!  

Cathie Glenn Jennings is a champion for comedy and relationship movies that, like music, have the power to change how you feel.  She is the author of Movie Guide to Romantic Comedies:  100 Chick Flicks To Make You Laugh and Feel Happy Ever After.  Visit her website at www.MovieGuideChickFlicks.com.

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