Occasionally, someone’s debut feature film looks exactly like what it is. Namely someone’s first, attempt at making a movie.
There have been a lot of breakout debut films over the years that put writer/directors on the map, signaling the emergence of a bright, new creative talent.
Friendsgiving isn’t one of them.
With the pandemic scuttling traditional family Thanksgiving dinners across the country this year, we might all be in need of some vicarious holiday warmth and fun.
A movie titled Friendsgiving would seem to be just what we would all want to settle in and watch after eating a scaled-down turkey dinner in isolation.
A movie about friends and Thanksgiving. What could be better?
Granted, Friendsgiving is about friends and Thanksgiving, but it’s not the warm and fuzzy Hallmark family film that you might expect from the title.
The friends are a group of people in Los Angeles, which is to say a colorful cornucopia of characters who aren’t exactly a cross section of America at large.
They are a collection of oddball people thrown together for a very non-traditional holiday celebration that is meant to be zany and funny.
It’s a great idea. On paper.
Throwing a bunch of people who probably shouldn’t be in the same room together in the same room together is a great premise for laughs.
As a writer, you can go anywhere with it. In theory.
In this case, it’s a main character by the name of Molly (Malin Akerman), who is an actress with a baby who has split up with the baby’s dad.
She wants to invite her friend Abby (Kat Dennings) over for a simple Thanksgiving dinner.
As it turns out Abby is just coming out of a breakup with the woman who was her romantic partner.
Add to that basic recipe the additional ingredients of last-minute, and in a few cases, uninvited, unwanted guests and you have the cookbook elements for some whacky comedy.
Friendsgiving means to be freewheeling and fun. Loosey-goosey, improv-style comedy with a crazy, envelope-pushing edge.
That’s pretty apparent in the opening scene featuring Molly dressed in kinky dominatrix attire verbally berating and whipping a young, nearly-naked young man wearing a turkey-themed cock sock.
Any expectations about family friendly entertainment are vaporized in the first few minutes of the movie.
But then we catch a glimpse of a baby monitor and realize that what we’re watching is some light sex fantasy fun -- a young mom balancing serious parental responsibilities with some porn-inspired “sexy time.”
There is a lot of crude sex talk, also meant to be shocking and fun.
Actually, there is a good deal of crude talk and action throughout the film, all for the sake of laughs.
Friendsgiving is adult comedy all the way. There is a lesbian theme throughout.
Female characters who have recently broken up with other female characters, female characters currently in relationships with other female characters and female characters cautiously coming out of the closet to experiment and explore.
There is even a “Fairy Gay Mother” dream sequence featuring a trio of gossamer winged lesbians including Wanda Sykes, rattling off every known slang term referring to lesbians.
It’s not the stuff of traditional Thanksgiving movies that take place at grandma’s house.
There is drinking and there are drugs, in the form of hallucinogenic mushrooms—all meant to make fun-loving, uninhibited characters even more fun loving and uninhibited.
It should add up to outrageousness and laughs. Somehow, it doesn’t.
Friendsgiving has a rambling sense of randomness and pointlessness from the standpoint of writing and script.
It seems to be hedging on the hope that these characters will interact with each other and spontaneously generate their own comedic sparks. For the most part, that doesn’t happen.
An analogy might be the act of vigorously shaking a bag of watch parts in the hope that they will somehow self-assemble into a working time piece.
Assembling a watch requires a watchmaker. The orchestration of a movie requires a director.
On a more positive note, Malin Akerman’s Molly is a reason to see Friendsgiving.
Akerman makes the best of what she has to work with, which isn’t much. Her work here stands out from the rest of the cast.
Kat Dennings’ Abby is just one click away from the character she played on the CBS series Two Broke Girls.
Here, she’s a a bit frumpier and a little more adventurous, but essentially, Max Black is back with her trademark delivery and timing.
If you miss Max, here’s your chance to reconnect.
Jane Seymour’s Helen (Molly’s mom) is a shameless cougar of a character trying to hook up with every man at the party.
It is a part that is far beneath her talent and stature.
It’s the oversexed mom character stereotype that is one-dimensional and tiresome -- as artificial as the very obvious blonde wig that the prop department and hair stylists provided.
And that brings me to the subject of technical credits. It’s hard to know where to begin.
But let’s start with a script that tries to substitute crudeness for comedy. The direction seems sophomoric and haphazard with a number of badly framed shots that draw attention to themselves.
The lighting is unflattering and inconsistent, having the appearance of someone’s first attempt at using LED light panels. Even the post-production color correction seems lacking.
All in all, Friendsgiving has the look and feel of a college film school project. And not a particularly good one.
It’s a movie struggling to be a bouncy, irreverent, offbeat comedy.
It only manages to be inept.
Malin Akerman is the only thing to be thankful for in this misguided Thanksgiving movie.
She’s the sweet whipped cream topping on the generic pumpkin pie filling and flakey crust.
In a moment of self-revelation and unguarded honesty, she laughs at her own silliness and utters the final line of the movie, which appears in the form of a cutting-room floor outtake in the end credits: “What the f**k kind of movie is this?”
Friendsgiving is in select theaters, On Demand, and Digital.