There is no shortage of films about Halloween and Christmas. But what about Thanksgiving? Considering Christmas movies are usually released in November, the beloved holiday often gets overlooked. Still, there are some great Thanksgiving movies out there, which bring the joy — but mostly the stress — of the overstuffed day to life.
‘Mistress America’ (Max)
2023 is the year of Greta Gerwig, so now’s the perfect time to revisit this 2015 film starring the “Barbie” director. In the Noah Baumbach dramedy that Gerwig co-wrote, a college freshman, Tracy, spends time with a 30-year-old woman, Brooke (Gerwig), who will soon be her stepsister. Baumbach and Gerwig explore that harrowing period in your late 20s or early 30s when you confront whether the idealistic dreams you had when you were younger will ever be realized. Themes of bonding with people who have suddenly become part of your family, not to mention a sequence set at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, make it perfect for the holiday.
‘Addams Family Values’ (Paramount+)
Allow Wednesday Addams to throw a wet blanket over your Thanksgiving festivities with a rewatch of “Addams Family Values.” The sequel is best remembered for a sequence where Wednesday, while at camp, stars in a play about the first Thanksgiving. It starts off as an offensively whitewashed depiction of history, only for Wednesday to go off script and remind everyone about the dark side of Thanksgiving with a rant about Native Americans having their land stolen. Leave it to her to bring us down to Earth with some truth bombs.
‘The Humans’ (Video on demand)
For the most downbeat Thanksgiving viewing experience ever, look no further than “The Humans.” The film, directed by Stephen Karam in an adaptation of his play, has a family gather for Thanksgiving in a dingy New York apartment. As the evening progresses, tensions rise and lingering traumas appear, from relationship problems to career setbacks to PTSD from 9/11, and the movie’s exploration of losing a loved one to dementia is heart-wrenching. The performances are all on-point, and we never doubt that this is a real family with decades of shared history.
‘The Oath’ (Video on demand)
Heated political arguments are as bound to Thanksgiving as turkey and cranberry. “The Oath” satirizes that and the divided nature of America today by imagining a world where the president has asked all citizens to sign a loyalty pledge. The deadline is the day after Thanksgiving, so when a family with different views on the policy gather, dinner gets explosive. Director and star Ike Barinholtz captures all those subtle passive-aggressive comments that come out in a gathering of people with contempt for each other’s views. But the arguments being part of a fictional scenario means both sides of the political aisle can enjoy the skirmish.
‘Pieces of April’ (Video on demand)
Patricia Clarkson earned a supporting actress Oscar nomination for her role in “Pieces of April,” a charming, low-budget dramedy starring Katie Holmes. Holmes plays a young woman, April, preparing to host her family for Thanksgiving in her small New York apartment and turning to her neighbors for help when things go wrong. Her family wants to make this holiday perfect given Clarkson’s character is dying from cancer, though they have serious doubts about April’s hosting abilities. It’s a sweet, humble movie that emphasizes the need to put aside differences to spend time with our loved ones while we still can.
‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ (Paramount+)
The quintessential Thanksgiving movie is John Hughes’ classic comedy “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” which finds humor in the misery of holiday travel. Steve Martin plays a businessman, Neal, trying to get home for Thanksgiving, and every part of his journey goes awry. He’s accompanied by Del, an irritating man played by John Candy. But what the film gets so very right is making Del just annoying enough to hilariously grate on Neal’s nerves, but not so annoying that we don’t love him. It’s a film about life circumstances forcing us to spend time with people we may have little in common with, but we care for all the same. What’s more Thanksgiving than that?