Like any person with a heart connected to two eyes, I like a good holiday movie to get me into the spirit of things. Thanksgiving, starring Matthew Chastain, Benjamin Dickinson and Samantha Jacober, did just that; I’m fully in the spirit now knowing whatever my anxiety is about hosting Thanksgiving, it at least won’t be as bad as this awkward, deranged, and completely joyless friendsgiving at Amy and Alex’s. And for that, I give thanks.
Amy and Alex are a young couple who’ve apparently just moved in together and are not equipped to host a party since some of their guests are drinking wine from a pickle jar. They’re in the throes of a sexy last minute vegetable chopping montage when Amy casually mentions to Alex that her estranged brother is coming for Thanksgiving dinner. She pleads with him in a sexy drunk baby voice–which she employs for a good 90% of the movie–to “please don’t be mad.” And because they’re dumb and in love, Alex totally brushes it off saying, “It’s Thanksgiving. Awkward family situations is the name of the game,” and they move on.
Everyone starts arriving in this very cramped apartment made even more claustrophobic by the camera’s constant close range. I’m not being hyperbolic. The camera is perpetually all up in everyone’s grill and just adds to the palpable discomfort. I don’t know if it’s because of Covid but even over the screen I’m not comfortable being this close and intimate with people. Especially people I don’t like.
At this point, Amy is already the worst. She is absolutely annoying in a childish way that is neither cute nor sexy and exhibits zero redeeming qualities. And it’s getting clearer (if it wasn’t already supposed to be obvious from the very beginning) that this mysterious stranger is not her brother. Not even a little bit.
When Will arrives downstairs, Amy asks Alex to go get him. When they both come up, Amy shamelessly flies into Will’s arms, shoving Alex into the wall, squealing and laughing. I love my younger brother. He is everything to me and I’m always excited when he comes to visit but never have I had the urge to run into his arms and have him swing me around. The most I’ll do is hug him and say, “Missed you, idiot.”
Also, I have an actual estranged older brother that I do not see or have a relationship with and if he said he was randomly coming to Thanksgiving dinner I would one, alert my whole family, including my husband, right away because I’d be having a major panic attack and two, I’d at best be ambivalent and not fly into his arms in ecstasy. Because we are estranged, a word Amy uses very loosely.
Alex, even with the giant hipster glasses he’s wearing, still can’t see the signs. Or chooses not to. And because they’re so obviously stupid, I can’t root for anyone.
In the very beginning it seems like he knows about a brother she hasn’t spoken to for years. My question – among many other questions – is has she prepped Alex for years to think she has a brother she doesn’t really have? Was she anticipating sneaking Will back into her life somehow? If Alex knows Amy enough to move in together, shouldn’t he have basic knowledge of her immediate family? Like the fact that she really does not have a brother named Will?
Except for one friend who Amy confides in and conspires with, no one else seems to know this guy is obviously an ex with whom she has a complicated history.
If these are their “best friends,” how come no one else knows about him and why are they all totally casual about the fact that they just discovered their best friend has a brother? Even my dentist knows exactly how many siblings I have, who my husband is, and who his siblings and parents are, and where in Iran they got their groceries. How do best friends not know this very basic information about each other? One person casually asks who the older sibling is but not in a “this is suspicious. Let’s get to the bottom of it” sort of way but more in an “oh what an adorable surprise” sort of way. Amy even ruffles Will’s hair like he’s her kid brother to sell the idea and it works because every single person in this movie is delightfully ignorant and I envy them for it.
I’m really very good at willing my suspension of disbelief. I can watch anything and justify or not even acknowledge why it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. I watched Spy Kids last week and took no issue with the fact that it’s absolutely impossible for their kids to not have known their parents are spies. There are literally tracks on the floor connected to their chairs and you touch anything on the vanity table the whole wall opens up with screens. Even if the kids don’t know their parents are spies, they know there’s something going on. My point is, none of this bothered me about Spy Kids. I just told that part of my brain to enjoy the movie and my pizza because in that world, it all made perfect sense.
But with Thanksgiving, instead of a willing suspension of my disbelief, I’ve employed a willing persistence of WTF, and it’s actually been great.
Once the brother boyfriend arrives, played really well by Chastain who constantly gives “I just buried some bodies on my way here” vibes, all the besties sit around the table and talk about how grateful they are for their friends and how much they hate their families and are glad they’re not with them.
This is a common Thanksgiving trope. The whole “families are the worst and thank god for the families we chose” or whatever. Once a year Americans are encouraged to have one dinner with their families and all hell breaks loose. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are Americans, but damn you guys take Thanksgiving way too seriously.
You can’t possibly expect to like every single person in your family. That’s a weird expectation to have from people. I saw a tweet – I see many of them this time of year – saying how one should behave at dinner; don’t comment on politics, don’t comment on how someone has lost/gained weight or how they look or why they don’t have a boyfriend and a number of other things. Have you ever been in a room with Persians? That’s literally all we do.
One aunt will tell me I lost weight, possibly too much weight in case I accidentally take it as a compliment. Another aunt will beg to differ claiming that according to her calculations I actually gained approximately 1.7 lbs. An uncle will ask my kid’s name for the umpteenth time because he’s a drunk and has no recollection of anything. Another uncle, who also doesn’t know my son’s name, will question why I have only one kid because you know, he’s clearly very invested in my life. An in-law will claim Covid is a figment of our imagination, while another will say we’re all going to die from Covid by the end of this dinner. Someone will definitely ask–not for the first time–what is it you actually do? Write novels? Everyone will line up to discuss their medical problems with my sister or husband because they’re the doctors in the family and no one actually wants to pay or make an appointment to see their physician. Finally, we’ll discuss politics going all the way back to the merits of Mohammad Mosaddegh who was the prime minister of Iran in 1953.
Does some of this bother me? Yes. Do I roll my eyes and text my sister when she’s across the room to come rescue me? Yes. Do I discuss all the crazy things that happened or were said in a group chat with the people I do actually like the next day? Yes, definitely. That’s the best part. The post family dinner round up of all the crazies.
And this isn’t Thanksgiving. This is just a normal Friday night Shabbat dinner, whether we like it or not.
Also, I’d like to add in the case of this movie, these are horrible friends. If you do want to choose your family, at least choose a group of people who know and care enough about you to know you don’t have a brother named Will. And, if they see you sneaking in your ex and lying to your boyfriend and friends, to smack you over the head and tell you to grow up and get your shit together. That’s the kind of friend I am and the kind of friends I want. People who will call me on my BS and make me a better person rather than indulge my weird childish whims (unless it’s like eating Nutella for a midnight snack).
It gets worse. Alex proposes to Amy at dinner in front of everyone. As in proposes marriage. To Amy. Where is this man’s brain?
God knows what’s going on in Amy’s head. She’s literally drunk through the whole movie. She says yes and they continue to canoodle at the dinner table like horny 13-year-olds left alone in a dark movie theater. This couple has absolutely no business getting married, let alone moving in together, and if there was one real friend at that table, they’d pull one of them aside and say “Look, I’m gonna be real with you. Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian have a better chance at marriage than you two. Stop this”.
Words can’t express how much I hate this couple. The only thing that kept me going is the righteous feeling that I’m better than them in every way and prefer my psychotic family to this. But also the hope that Will would murder them both.
For a second it was a plausible wish. The friend who’s a newlywed flakes on plans to go on the yearly post-Thanksgiving dinner hike with Alex. This friend blames marriage. Because now he has to go to his wife’s family and can’t just do whatever he wants. He is clearly unhappy about this because he’s 30-something years old and can’t go do Dave and Busters any time he wants. My friend and I just ambushed our brothers and lectured them about this; no one is putting a gun to your head and telling you to get married. Either do it knowing that yes, life and obligations will change because that’s adulthood. Or don’t do it and go paintballing with your friends every weekend. Either way is fine. I don’t care. Just make a decision and stop whining.
One thing I’m realizing after 10 years of marriage that our old school Persian parents were completely right about is that when you get married, you marry that person’s whole family. I had bought into this American notion that you marry the man you love and make things work. But in reality there’s no “it’s just you and me against the world babe.” It’s more like “it’s just you and me and your parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, their wives, in-laws and children, neighbors, etc. etc. against the world babe.”
Ironically the only person who is completely sane here is Will. He is not on board with Alex and Amy getting married, and tells Alex this (and much more) on their hike, which Will kindly offered to go on after Alex’s friend bailed. It was very eventful and the fresh air finally cleared Alex’s brain enough to realize – with a lot of help and a tree analogy – that Will is not Amy’s brother. And we briefly get teased that Will is going to push Alex off a cliff. He doesn’t, though, and I will forever be disappointed by that missed opportunity.
They get separated in the woods and Alex makes it home to confront Amy, who is of course drunk. Then Will shows up and gives her a whole spiel about how she’s meant for bigger things. She’s not. She’s meant for rehab. (Ladies, find a man that believes in you the way Will believes in Amy even though she has absolutely nothing going for her).
They start making out and all of a sudden Amy is like “what are you doing here?” Um hello? You invited him to your house and let him sleep over. Meanwhile Alex is at their friend’s house asking if she knew about this. Of course she had no idea and was actually trying to hook up with Will.
Somehow in the middle of this conversation, Alex decides Amy is a keeper and goes back to claim his woman. He is successful and honestly it makes sense. They’re both really stupid people and deserve each other. Will leaves and the movie ends with Amy and Alex hugging.
Moral of the story is, if you’re working on a story or screenplay just remember that this movie got made and I watched the whole thing with no regrets, so don’t give up on your dreams, no matter how little sense they make.
Also please – and I can’t stress this enough – have those basic boring first date conversations – how many siblings do you have? Do you like dogs? Have you ever pretended your ex is your estranged brother and invited him to your house for Thanksgiving and lied to everyone about it? – you know, things like that. Basic. And the biggest takeaway, if you have that many friends whose families don’t want to be with them, that’s a red flag. I get if there’s a friend here or there that has a really toxic family and needs your support but if all of your friends choose not to be with their families, there’s something wrong with them, not every member of their family, and you should reevaluate your standards.
I’d like to think after the movie was over that the characters’ lives went on without us. And I hope that Alex and Amy broke up in the worst way possible, and that Will came back and killed both of them with a broken pickle jar.
And that, my friends, is what I call getting into the holiday spirit.