And You Thought Family Was Complicated
From reading the synopsis, I was not that intrigued by “Friendsgiving”, the latest film to kick off the 2020 holiday season. I felt like I would either love it – or hate it; there simply is no middle ground for ensemble films like these that posit multiple character storylines against each other to unfold comically. It works – or it doesn’t. While there were a couple of heartfelt moments in “Friendsgiving”, I was bored most of the time. It wasn’t even funny, but instead gave off that awkward feeling of dread many of us know very well; that feeling when chaos is unfolding in front of us and out of our control but we can’t leave or look away. Why the director, writer, and producers thought people would willingly want to watch that – I have no idea! For me, it’s an utter flop. But let’s break it down and tell you why that’s the case.
Synopsis of “Friendsgiving”
Jeff (Jack Donnelly) is naked, save for a turkey cock sock (yes!), and Molly (Malin Akerman) is a dominatrix. Except things get a bit too extreme and the entire scene falls apart – instead they just have regular sex, a quickie before Abby (Kat Dennings) arrives. Meanwhile, Abby is at the grocery store shopping for supplies for a lonesome dinner with Molly. While she’s on the phone with her family back east, we learn that Abby is still moping about being dumped by her ex earlier in the year. (And she bluntly points out that she’s not interest in men). Shortly after, she cracks open a bottle of wine – and then throws a bitchy fit when the manager kicks him out. Meanwhile, Molly decides to change up their friendsgiving plans and invites Jeff to stay – and then also invites their friend Lauren (Aisha Tyler) and her family. When Abby shows up with the turkey, a very naked Jeff walks out and Abby discovers the sudden change; she’s not happy. While they bicker in the kitchen, we learn the rest of their backstories: Molly is in the process of divorcing her ex while trying to managing her newborn son. Not only did Abby’s ex girlfriend leave her back in January, but it was her first lesbian relationship despite being nearly thirty. Upset that plans changed without asking, Abby ends up leaving. But another call to her mother back East, she returns to Molly’s with pecan pie in tow asking, “Just promise me I don’t have to look at Jeff’s balls while I eat turkey.”
Suddenly “mommie dearest”, Molly’s mother Helen (Jane Seymour), enters. She’s returned home from Sweden, and already has a drink in hand. Not long after, all the other guests slowly trickle in: Lauren, her husband Dan (Deon Cole), with kids in tow; Molly’s agent Rick (Andrew Santino) and his new wife, Brianne (Christine Taylor); Gus (Mike Rose); and the first of a handful of random lesbians whom Lauren has invited for Abby. But the last guest to arrive is also the least welcome by Molly – her ex, Gunner (Ryan Hansen), invited by her own mother! While everyone gossips and mingles, Abby tries to wrangle the cooking schedule – before yelling for everyone to get out of the kitchen. From here, things start going awry. Molly confronts Helen over why she invited her ex, but when the talk turns to sex, Abby walks out disgusted. Not long after, Gunner’s presence builds into tension between Jeff and Molly. Lauren has already begun drinking, but during a female bonding session with Molly and Abby, she pulls out some shrooms to add an extra bit of fun to the party. Downstairs, Helen confronts Jeff about his philanthropy – or rather, lack of work to support her daughter. Insert the occasional video dating spiel from the random lesbians invited for Abby, things take another turn when an old friend and wanna-be shaman, Claire (Chelsea Peretti), shows up to the party. But then Abby checks her phone and discovers that her ex, Maive, is now engaged – perfect, she mutters!
Lauren tries to console Abby in the bathroom, but when Abby laments how she won’t even get to kiss a girl this year, Lauren leans in to do just that. But their make out session is interrupted by Lauren’s daughter – and then her husband! Abby, even more upset and wanting to lose herself, takes two shrooms. Suddenly, dinner is ready! But before Jeff and Gunner get to banter over who can carve the meat (turkey, you dirty folks!), Claire gives a long non-denominational spirit blessing. Before long, the topic has turned to sex as the wine & drinks keep flowing. But when baby Eden cries, Abby tells Molly that she’ll take care of him while Abby enjoys the party. Abby ends up feeding Eden some of her pecan pie before she passes out. Except she’s awakened by her three Fairy Gay Mothers who “help” Abby by pointing out she’s still in her teenage gay years despite being nearly thirty. They convince her that the home she seeks and longs for is inside her, all she has to do is click her heels together three times and say, “There’s no place like home… depot.” After her epiphany, she wakes up and apologises to everyone while they continue drinking and partying.
But things take a serious turn when baby Eden’s cries are overheard on the baby monitor. It turns out that Eden has a rash and is wheezing. When Abby admits to giving Eden some pecan pie, Molly snaps at her and decides to take him to the hospital. But Abby is tripping by this point and can’t drive. But while waiting for a lyft, Molly and Abby have a serious argument where Molly lays into why she can no longer put up with Abby’s complaining. Upon arriving at the ED, Jeff and Molly run in and ask for help because she thinks her son has a nut allergy, but the nurse questions if they have been drinking and if it’s really a “nut allergy” – or drugs and alcohol. While waiting for the results, Molly breaks up with Jeff by admitting that he was only a rebound and it’s not serious, so he leaves. Back at the house, Helen discovers that baby Eden is missing, so she rings Molly. Thankfully, Eden is fine! When Abby shows up at the hospital, the two girls have a heart to heart; Abby admits that she knew Maive never loved her, while Molly accepts that she needs to focus on her and Eden right now. When they arrive home, nearly everyone has left. Lauren lends her support to Molly, and Molly apologises to Dan for making out with Lauren – except he’s only upset that he wasn’t invited. And as Helen exits herself (with older gentleman, Chad, in tow) Abby and Molly toast each other in the kitchen while Abby mutters: “At least someone is getting laid tonight!”
I serious have to wonder what writer/director Nicol Paone was thinking while she envisioned this disaster. For one, “Friendsgiving” is a story that has been told to death: Thanksgiving dinner gets crazy and out of hand because of too many awkward and weird guests. Ok, it’s perhaps the first in the very small niche of Thanksgiving films to include a LQBTQ character, plus a few other new story twists – but the most important thing this film lacks is a reason WHY we should spend nearly an hour and half watching it. The trailer and promo materials painted this as a great farcical comedy, focusing on friends rather than the usual family and relative chaos of holiday gatherings.
The plot is filled with absurdities that are really only comical because they are so outrageous and absurd. You know how when someone is telling you a tragic story, listing off all the horrible things that happened to them – but you’re holding back from laughing because it’s THAT absurd! Molly’s mom suddenly showing up, with Molly’s ex boyfriend in tow can be great comedy – but then she hits on and tries to seduce her daughter’s ex? Lauren tries to help Abby out of her pathetic wallowing, so she arranges random lesbians to a gathering of friends. (Which is now half strangers?) Or later, when she again tries to help Abby kiss another girl this year – by kissing Abby herself. Ok, great potential, but when her daughter and then her husband interrupts – he’s only upset because he wasn’t invited to join! (Yes, I was actually disgusted that such a sexist and homophobic remark is still being used as “comedy” in 2020).
As if the plot was bad enough, the characters of “Friendsgiving” are horribly written. Most fitting into a checklist of “what crazy people should I include” checklist. Abby is a bitchy woman who was dumped months ago yet still moping around and blaming everyone but herself for still being sad – of COURSE she’s the lesbian. (UGH!) Molly is the newly single mother divorcing her husband – the fact that she’s actually a rich and well known actress is the only thing that is not cliché about her character. Molly’s mom is a lush, so of course there are mother/daughter issues to painfully witness. We have botox Brianne who we can’t understand a word she says – cliché. And Gus who is so flamboyant, it’s painful to watch – yet we get nothing about who is he; he spends the whole time talking about his missing brother. It actually feels like “Friendsgiving” was an acting assignment where everyone was given a brief about their character and who/how they relate to each other, placed into a house, and Nicol Paone simply said: “Go” while watching and hoping a great comedy evolves from the experiment. (If you can’t already tell – it didn’t.)
The premise of “Friendsgiving” had great potential. But the execution… – well, they should’ve hired an actually executioner instead of a director; it might have made for a more interesting film!
Yet for all the negative things, there are a couple positive things about “Friendsgiving” – not many – but this train wreck film needs all the help it can get! To start, they found a cast full of talented and well-known actors & actresses. (And let’s not forget about our three Fairy Gay Mothers, Margaret Cho, Wanda Sykes, and Fortune Feimster!) And for as horribly written their characters were, most did an admirable job bringing that character to life; they were all believable. On their own or within in scenes between only a few, the film has a few tender moments. Both Molly and Abby’s arcs (as pathetically small as they both respectively are), leave us with a slight bit of hope; Molly accepts that she’s on her own – but that’s actually a good thing, while Abby FINALLY is over her ex and open to move on. Lastly, it’s a big studio film so the cinematographic elements are on par. It’s just unfortunate that the actual storyline couldn’t match.
Personally, heed not only my recommendation but the advice from the many negative reviewers online – don’t waste your time or money on “Friendsgiving”. If you want a chaotic scene full of drama, some awkward comedy, and disaster – just wait until you have your own family and friends over for Thanksgiving this year! (Your own holiday gathering might actually be more entertaining to watch!) This train wreck is just mindless entertainment with big A-list Hollywood stars in order to make the studio money.
Queer Relevance of “Friendsgiving”
“Friendsgiving” is an ensemble movie, so it’s hard to justify a Queer relevance because there is SO many characters and subplots colliding into one disastrous Thanksgiving dinner. But there is a bit of a queer relevance. Our one female lead, Molly, is a lesbian who is still dealing with the fallout from a failed (and seemingly abusive) lesbian relationship earlier in the year. She’s bitter and upset, lamenting that her ex is now engaged to another woman (yes, it’s the cliché gay best friend trope). A couple other lesbians are invited to this shindig, but only because Molly’s friends are trying to hook her up with someone new; but then Molly’s ex also shows up. Even the same-sex kiss between Molly and her friend Lauren falls in an odd space with regards to queer relevance – Lauren is a married mother with kids and when they’re caught, her husband is only upset because he wasn’t invited to join in! (UGH!)Perhaps the only redeeming queer element are the fairy gay mothers who visit Molly in her shroom induced hallucination, played by Queer icons Margaret Cho, Wanda Sykes, and Fortune Feimster.
I’m on then fence whether “Friendsgiving” is a Queer film or not; I’ll let you decide for yourself.