Thursday November 05, 2009
Welcome to My Least-Favorite Month
It gets awfully dark awfully fast in November. Worse, I know the light will continue to die for another month-and-a-half, and I rage, rage against its dying. Well, “rage.” I sigh, sigh against the dying of the light. November is the month of death. December at least gives you rebirth in either pagan (Winter Solstice) or religious (Dec. 24) terms, when either we return to the sun or the Son returns to us, but the only thing November gives you is fat raindrops and dead leaves swirling in a vortex and stoplights swinging on their cables. It gives you cold and wet and dark.
And Thanksgiving. It's its one saving grace. My favorite holiday is in my least-favorite month.
Thanksgiving has never been a favorite in Hollywood, though, which is why the paltry selection below. It's slightly startling. But then Thanksgiving has always been treated by men in the marketplace as poor cousin to the more lucrative Christmas. The first week in November is for opening movies like “Elf” and “Fred Claus” and Disney's “A Christmas Carol.” Disney's. As if Charles Dickens had nothing to do with it.
In no particular order.
- Home for the Holidays (1995): Jodie Foster's film is the most emphatically Thanksgiving-related movie in recent memory. I wrote about it in 1997—two years after it was released—but never bothered to put up on this site. Not sure if the film is worth revisiting. Anyone? Here's some of what I wrote back then:
Yeah, we all know what a pain the holidays can be, and how meddlesome parents can be, and why it's necessary to have your favorite sibling there when you tackle both parents and holidays—which is why, in Jodie Foster's Home for the Holidays, we understand when Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) pleads with her brother, Tommy, to show up and help her out. Bad news: Tommy is played by Robert Downey Jr., which means he's a hyperactive, insensitive lout who causes more problems than he solves. He snaps Polaroids of people in embarrassing situations, he taunts, he teases, he mocks sensitive conversations. What the hell did she need him there for anyway? I actually liked her parents (Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning). The father's phone conversation with Tommy's lover, for example, demonstrates a kind of class that Tommy doesn't come near. Claudia never seems to realize that she needs her parents to protect her from Tommy rather than vice-versa.
- The Ice Storm (1997): Another film I wrote about back in the day but never posted here. It takes place the weekend after Thanksgiving, 1973, when both the U.S. government and nuclear famiies are falling apart. It's a cold world and a cold poster, and Sigourney Weaver plays a cold bitch, but man she still makes me hot:
Right from the start, when teenager Paul Hood (Tobey Maguire) quotes from an early '70s Fantastic Four comic book, I was into this pic; and while I never lost sympathy for Paul, I had none for the other characters. They were all distant, creepy, obtuse or sexually perverse—or some combination of that less-than-fantastic four. There's a nice juxtaposition of the adults' empty sexual rompings with the unsupervised teenagers' fitful entries into sexuality. The movie seems a lesson in the dangers that result when grown-ups don't grow up. A more obvious lesson is as old as Winesburg, Ohio: suburban lives are empty, empty, empty.
- Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987): My favorite John Hughes' film. Just flat-out funny. Ten years earlier Steve Martin was the world's wild-and-crazy guy but by this point he'd become the world's straightlaced guy: the guy who needs to loosen up a little and sing a “Flintstones” song now and again. What a change. It wasn't until I read Martin's memoir, Born Standing Up, that I realized he never was that wild-and-crazy guy. Even when he seemed the hippest guy in the world, the most popular host on the hippest late-night TV show, he was pretty square, and always had been. In the midst of the '60s, for example, when everyone was into politics and pot and love, he was off at two-bit carnivals performing magic tricks. It's fascinating—the bent road he took to hipness, before finding his way back, via vehicles like this, to becoming just another uptight suburban dad trying to get home for Thanksgiving, and shouting impotently at the sky: “You're messing with the wrong guy!” Martin was goofy-funny as the wild-and-crazy guy but I never identified with him. But “You're messing with the wrong guy”? Oh yeah. Who can't relate?
- A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973): This is how old I am: I still think of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” as the new one. The Peanuts Christmas and Halloween specials first aired when I was 2 and 3, respectively, so they were always there for me. The Thanksgiving special? Didn't come around until I was 10 and beginning to move away from “Peanuts” and toward Marvel comics, and I didn't think it was as good as the first two. Something cheaper about it. And nothing as memorable as “All it needs is a little love, Charlie Brown” and “I got a rock.” On the other hand, I know people, younger people, who love it, with its absurd Thanksgiving feast of popcorn and toast, so maybe it's less a consequence of what it is than when we saw it.
- Hannah and Her Sisters (1986): How long has it been since I've seen “Hannah and Her Sisters”? Ten years? I didn't even remember, until I began researching for this post, that one of its main dinners is a Thanksgiving dinner, in which, apparently, no one gives thanks for what they have but keeps pursuing what they don't. Barbara Hershey, for example. The movie contains one of my all-time favorite lines, delivered with a slight, disgusted shake of the head by the great Max von Sydow. The artist Frederick has just been watching TV, and he's about to find out that his girl, Lee (Hershey), is sleeping around on him, but in the meantime he delivers this spot-on diatribe about American culture. It's the last line that's my favorite but I'll include the whole quote:
You see the whole culture. Nazis, deodorant salesmen, wrestlers, beauty contests, a talk show. Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling? But the worst are the fundamentalist preachers. Third grade con men telling the poor suckers that watch them that they speak with Jesus, and to please send in money. Money, money, money! If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name...he'd never stop throwing up.
- Pieces of April (2003): Anyone see this thing? I didn't. I remember when it came out, though, playing at the Guild 45th in Seattle, back when Katie Holmes was trying to be Ms. indie-actress. This is her second Thanksgiving related movie, after “Ice Storm,” making her Ms. (or Mrs.) Thanksgiving. Invite her over. Break out the turkey and stuffing and corn pudding.