Unconventional Family Films To Watch on Thanksgiving

As Americans are taking to the road and skies to reunite with their extended families for the Thanksgiving holiday, chances are they will be spending their post-turkey consumption on the couch recovering. Network and cable channels usually plan ahead with pre-empted marathons of crowd-pleasing movies. Since every Thanksgiving can guarantee awkward moments of family drama with relatives and explicative-laden political rants from your drunk uncle, it’s healthy for families to bond over their love of movies. The following is a suggestion of three crowd-pleasing yet unconventional films that cover dysfunctional families that you can still bond over with your relatives.

Hannah and Her Sisters

One of Woody Allen’s most critically acclaimed and successful box office films, “Hannah and Her Sisters” spans two years of three siblings who were raised by show-biz parents with conflicting love lives and personal ambitions. In the tradition of the holiday, the film spans the course of three consecutive Thanksgiving gatherings at their parents’ Manhattan home with the extended family. Hannah (Mia Farrow) is a theater actress who is currently married to Elliot (Michael Caine), a successful financial advisor who has a secret crush on Hannah’s sister Lee (Barbara Hershey). Lee is a recovering alcoholic who lives with her much older lover, a reclusive artist named Frederick (Max von Sydow). Lee very much respects Elliot’s taste in music and literature and senses his admiration for her in the beginning of the film. Holly (Dianne Wiest) is sort of the black sheep of the three sisters, an aspiring actress who had her troubles with drugs in the past while trying to make a living as a caterer with her best friend April (Carrie Fisher). Holly suffers from low self-esteem while believing she’s in direct competition with her friend April in finding love as well as competing with her other sisters for professional success.

Over the course of the first year, Elliot pursues Lee and has a brief affair with her behind her sister Hannah’s back. Both Elliot and Lee feel guilty for their infidelity, betraying their significant others. Hannah’s previous marriage to Mickey Sachs (Woody Allen), a hypochondriac television sketch comedy producer, ended in divorce due in part to Mickey’s infertility. Hannah ended up giving birth to twins from artificial insemination from the couple’s close friend Norman. During the second Thanksgiving gathering, Holly tries her hand at screenwriting in which her first script greatly upsets Hannah, as she believes it is a negative portrayal of her marriage to Elliot. Holly remains defensive about her story despite picking up inspiration from Lee and the insinuation that Elliot is in an unhappy marriage. In a flashback, Hannah sets Mickey on a date post-divorce with Holly that ends in disaster due to their inability to connect. In a minor story arc, Hannah tries to keep her parent’s marriage together, despite her mom’s alcoholism and admittance to cheating on her father in the past. By the third Thanksgiving, Hannah and Lee have reconciled with their lovers while Holly had a chance meeting with Mickey earlier in the year and are now married. Did you get all of that? Three sisters living in New York while trying to balance family and professional work is no easy task. Perhaps why Woody Allen uses the Thanksgiving holiday to parlay the dysfunction of a prominent New York family. The film earned both Wiest and Craine their first Academy Awards for their supporting roles. The film remains one of Allen’s best films and a standout for comedy-dramas of the 1980s.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Speaking of prominent New York families, Wes Anderson’s magnum opus “The Royal Tenenbaums” presents a new form of family conflicts beyond what counseling could solve. The three Tenenbaum children were child prodigies destined for success as adults. Unfortunately, due to their neglectful and greedy father Royal (Gene Hackman), their ambitions were cut short upon his desertion from the family. Chas (Ben Stiller) was a math and business phenom with a knack for entrepreneurship. Richie (Luke Wilson) was a tennis prodigy and an aspiring artist. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), their adopted sister, was an award-winning playwright as a child. Their potential as children never flourished into adulthood. After the death of his wife, Chas becomes overprotected of his two children and constantly prepares them for any sense of danger. Margot gives up writing and spends her days in a bathtub while living with the much older Raleigh St. Claire (Bill Murray), a neurologist. Following a public breakdown on the tennis court, Richie leaves the limelight and travels the world on a cruise ship. One day, he professes his love for his adopted sister Margot to longtime friend Eli Cash (Owen Wilson). Meanwhile, their mother Etheline (Anjelica Huston) has become an architect following the divorce from Royal and began an intimate relationship with her accountant Henry Sherman (Danny Glover). Royal, who has been disbarred and living in a hotel, decides to reconnect with his family after discovering that Henry proposed to his ex-wife.

Hackman’s sly portrayal of an unethical father fakes his own terminal illness in order for his own family to welcome him back into their lives. With the help of the family’s longtime servant Pagoda (Kumar Pallana), Royal fakes his way back to the family to regain their love. Unfortunately, Royal’s ruse doesn’t last long but it isn’t until his realization that his lousy attempt to be a father and husband that broke up the family in the first place. Wes Anderson’s portrayal of a once-promising family that resulted in bitterness and resentment earned him his first Academy Award nomination (alongside Owen Wilson). The film is both a beautiful tribute to the disfunctionality of families while showing heart and the power of redemption.

The Godfather

Regarded as one of the best films ever made, Francis Ford Coppala’s portrayal of an Italian-American family in the depths of organized crimes is regarded as the landmark gangster film. But it’s more than that. It’s about family. In the opening scene, “the godfather” Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) hosts the wedding of his only daughter Connie (Talia Shire) while dealing business with is eldest son Sonny (James Caan) and his adopted son Tom Hagan (Robert Duvall), the family lawyer and consigliere. Michael Corleone, the only college-educated member of the family, chose to serve his country as a Marine in World War II soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He presents to his family his girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), his college girlfriend who is portrayed as the outsider, unacquainted with Italian culture and the Corleone family business. At first, Michael distances himself from his mob family. He doesn’t want to have anything to with their criminal activities and wants to live a more Americanized life. It isn’t until an assassination attempt on Vito Corleone that brings Michael closer to his father for protection. In retaliation for the attempts of assassination on his father, Michael agrees to meet with the member of a rival family and a corrupt police officer. In the memorable scene, Michael retrieves a pistol from the bathroom stall and shoots the two in cold blood and quickly exits the scene. Michael, the one pure element in the family of crime, has now succumbed to the family business in the name of loyalty. He deeply loves his father and his siblings but has turned into everything he once despised.

Meanwhile, the hot-heated Sonny gets caught up as the acting boss of the family while his father remains incapacitated. Unfortunately, Sonny gets his comeuppance at a tollbooth spot. Meanwhile, Fredo (John Cazale), Michael’s older yet inept brother, is seen as the weakest of the siblings but takes a job in Las Vegas under the wing of casino owner Moe Greene (Alex Rocco). This later compromises the family’s business because of Fredo's resentment of Vito's decision to place Michael as head the family after Sonny was killed. The film ends in a dramatic portrayal of multiple assassinations of mob rivals while Michael is at the christening of his niece. The first “Godfather” is just the opening chapter to a decade-spanning trilogy and in most audience minds, remains the best of the three. The winner of several Academy Awards, “The Godfather” remains an unconventional view of family loyalty while maintaining the business at all costs.

These are just three personal favorites of mine. In the comment section, feel free to share what unconventional family movies you enjoy and tend to watch during the holiday season.

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David 22 months ago

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