- Certain films may appear to be perfect for family viewing on Thanksgiving, but they will actually lead to discomfort due to heavy themes.
- Movies like The Celebration and The Royal Tenenbaums seem like light and quirky options but delve into deep examinations of dysfunction and disappointment within families.
- It’s important for families to do their research before choosing a movie to watch together on Thanksgiving in order to avoid awkward silences or triggering moments.
While there are many timeless movies that can be enjoyed by the whole family on Thanksgiving, there are just as many choices that should not be watched on the holiday, as they may lead to awkward silences, uncomfortable tension, or outright anxiety. Thanksgiving is a time when families come together and express gratitude through an extravagant shared meal, maybe followed by the collective viewing of a movie. The problem is that certain films may look like the perfect pick as they involve extended families, the holiday season, or themes of togetherness, but after the play button has been pressed, there’s a slow realization that this was a very bad idea.
For example, a movie that appears to have a light and quirky style could turn out to actually be more of a deep examination of a family’s dysfunction, possibly winding up too relatable and triggering for some relatives in the room. Or, a road trip romp involving a family coming together as they travel across the country could seem appropriate on the surface only to focus on heavy themes like addiction. There are just too many films that are easily mistaken for proper holiday fare, and more research is required of families hoping to watch a movie together on Thanksgiving in order to avoid further discomfort.
10 The Celebration (1998)
A Danish black comedy about a family’s secrets of abuse
Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration tells the story of a family coming together for their father’s 60th birthday. What starts as a celebration soon turns bleak as accusations of abuse, sexual assault, and incest are brought to the forefront, and deeply buried family secrets are revealed in an explosion of pure repressed emotion. With its low budget and avant-garde style, The Celebration has the feeling of the most depressing home video ever recorded. This is not one for the faint of heart.
9 The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Wes Anderson’s exploration of dysfunctional family dynamics
The story of three extraordinary siblings who found success in childhood feels like the perfect thing to watch with the whole family. With Wes Anderson’s signature style, a strong cast including Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, and Gwyneth Paltrow, and an upbeat soundtrack, The Royal Tenenbaums appears to be a recipe for a good time. However, childhood success turns to disappointment in adulthood as this dysfunctional family comes together after their father tells them he’s dying. With absurd and ironic humor, it deals with disillusionment and despair, and while it’s ultimately a poignant and whimsy journey, it’s not the best viewing option for all family members together in one sitting.
8 The Family Stone (2005)
An awkward first-time visit to a spouse’s family
This ensemble comedy explores an awkward Christmas in the home of the titular family. The tense and uncomfortable premise follows Sarah Jessica Parker as an uptight woman who meets her boyfriend’s family for the first time. Receiving a hostile reception, she becomes increasingly alienated and upset as she realizes she’s the opposite of the outgoing and open Stone family. Featuring one of the most uncomfortable movie dinner table scenes, The Family Stone will strike a chord with anyone who has ever felt out of their depth when visiting their spouse’s family for the holidays.
7 The Squid And The Whale (2005)
A semi-autobiographical tale of divorce
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale is a semi-autobiographical tale of two boys dealing with their parents’ divorce in the 1980s. Taking the idiosyncratic and quirky sensibilities of Wes Anderson, who produced the movie, and melding them with the kitchen sink realism of Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale uniquely feels genuine and visceral, as it deals with such a difficult dramatic situation from a teenager’s perspective. This dialogue-driven movie is as tender as it is tragic, garnering the filmmaker an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, making it worth seeing, just not with the whole family.
6 Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
A dysfunctional family’s road trip
For those hoping for a light and breezy family road trip, look elsewhere, as the dysfunctional Hoover family in Little Miss Sunshine is anything but. Telling the story of a family traveling across the country to allow their youngest child, Olive, to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, the movie tackles themes of drug addiction, suicide, and the sexualization of children. Ultimately, it is a feel-good story about the importance of coming together and supporting one another, but there are a lot of heavy and troubling elements to overcome along the way.
5 August: Osage County (2013)
Expertly performed drama of a family in turmoil
Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage County is an ensemble drama about a dysfunctional family coming together after their father suddenly disappears. It boasts a star-studded cast including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Ewan McGregor. This movie explores themes of addiction, grief, miscommunication, and secrets, as a family in turmoil is forced to confront the many issues they are grappling with both individually and together. An expertly acted film, the volume of award-worthy performances on display is impressive, but for a viewer in search of escapism, its vile and bitter tone can feel like a lot.
4 This Is Where I Leave You (2014)
An uncomfortable story of a grieving family
This is Where I Leave You explores four grown-up siblings returning home to spend a week together following the death of their father. In the process, they must deal with their inappropriate mom, spouses, exes, and a forgotten hometown love. Featuring a strong cast that includes Jason Bateman, Adam Driver, Tina Fey, and Jane Fonda, this uncomfortable family’s return home is as cringe-filled as it is heartfelt, and acts as an entertaining comedy with a few scenes that would be very uncomfortable for viewers who, like the protagonists, are stuck visiting home and interacting with relatives.
3 Knives Out (2019)
An exploration of class, race, and society
- Release Date
- November 27, 2019
- Rian Johnson
- Chris Evans, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana De Armas, Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, Riki Lindhome
- 130 minutes
Rian Johnson’s mystery movie Knives Out was a big success when it was released in 2019 and helped to revitalize the once massive whodunit genre. As a cleverly crafted story dealing with themes of deception and murder, the film is much darker than it initially seems and is far more intense and cynical than other movies in the same vein, such as Murder on the Orient Express. With an unusual plot structure, several narrative twists, and a satirical unraveling of mystery tropes, the movie defies audience expectations and examines class, race, and American society in an unexpected way.
2 Ready Or Not (2019)
An engagement gone wrong
Ready or Not
- Release Date
- August 21, 2019
- Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
- Nat Faxon, Kate Ziegler, Elyse Levesque, Chase Churchill, Elana Dunkelman, Andie MacDowell, Liam MacDonald, Mark O’Brien, Nicky Guadagni, Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Ethan Tavares, Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Samara Weaving, Etienne Kellici, John Ralston
The black comedy horror film Ready or Not showcases everybody’s worst nightmare when visiting a fiancé’s family for the very first time. What Grace, played by Samara Weaving, hopes will be a laid-back and friendly affair turns into a ritualistic game of hide-and-seek by her Satan-worshiping and weapon-wielding potential in-laws. This is a movie that addresses real-world socioeconomic concerns and issues relating to class through a wickedly entertaining and thrilling concept that is sure to get viewers’ hearts racing. However, it’s likely to be too gory for some relatives during a family Thanksgiving viewing.
1 Marriage Story (2019)
A heartbreaking exploration of divorce and separation
- Release Date
- December 6, 2019
- Noah Baumbach
- Ray Liotta, Merritt Wever, Kyle Bornheimer, Alan Alda, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Mark O’Brien, Julie Hagerty, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern
- 136 minutes
Noah Baumbach’s divorce drama Marriage Story expertly explores the dark subject of marital separation. Despite each party’s best efforts to remain civil, hurt feelings inevitably come to the forefront, and soon-to-be ex-husband and wife Charlie and Nicole Barber find themselves desperately fighting for custody while their once-happy family falls apart. Featuring passionate performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, the film manages to remain compassionate and nuanced as the nastiest aspects of a crumbling marriage are expertly explored in an emotional, raw, and complex work that will be too much for family viewing on Thanksgiving.
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