“Friendsgiving” can’t quite capture the holiday’s highs

Joey Magidson

Zany holidays have long been a staple of cinematic comedies. That being said, it’s almost always Christmas that gets the attention, leaving Thanksgiving largely in the dust. It’s a missed opportunity, too, as Thanksgiving dinners are notoriously full of awkward conversations, unfortunate political debates with a crazy relative, and the like. So, it makes sense to focus a film on the holiday. What’s more, the non-family gathering version, where friends come together to celebrate, has just as much potential. Unfortunately, Friendsgiving is a real missed opportunity to craft something hilarious. There are sporadically amusing moments, but mostly, it’s a disappointment and a waste of a very solid cast.

The movie is a comedy, centered around a Thanksgiving dinner/party. It’s been a tough year for Abby (Kat Dennings) and Molly (Malin Ackerman), with relationships coming to an end. Abby is looking forward to a laid-back Thanksgiving with her best friend, needing to continue grieving/processing being single again. Molly, a new mother, on the other hand, has a new boyfriend in Jeff (Jack Donnelly) whom she’s invited to stay for dinner. What was supposed to be a quiet Turkey Day has already gained a third wheel. However, their turkey dinner is about to become a raucous party, as first their friend Lauren (Aisha Tyler) begs to join them, while Molly’s flamboyant mother Helen (Jane Seymour) arrives unannounced. Soon, various plot machinations bring in Molly’s old flame Gunnar (Ryan Hanson), a supposed shaman, and more, leading to supposed comic chaos. Nicol Paone writes and directs, with cinematography from Neil Shapiro, as well as music by Jessica Weiss. The rest of the cast includes Margaret Cho, Deon Cole, Dana DeLorenzo, Chelsea Peretti, Mike Rose, Andrew Santino, Wanda Sykes, Christine Taylor, and more.

Individual moments work here, largely due to the cast. Kat Dennings is really funny, but she alone can’t make this tonally off comedy succeed. Malin Ackerman and Aisha Tyler have their bits that really land, but Dennings is the standout. Too often, however, the cast are left advancing a plot you don’t care about. When they can just riff and have fun, like in a short sequence with Ackerman, Dennings, and Tyler, the hints of something far better can be seen. Any move towards something resembling drama falls flat, as well as presents plenty of unnecessary characters. More of Ackerman and Dennings, less of the party guests, and things would have been on steadier ground.

Friendsgiving should have been better than this. Filmmaker Nicol Paone peppers in enough funny bits to make that clear. However, while her comedy writing is more on point than not, her drama writing and plotting leave much to be desired, as does her direction. It just all seems very haphazard. If it was in a laugh riot where you were too busy laughing to care, that would be one thing. Here, however, it’s decidedly not the case. The shortcomings contribute to this flick’s failure. Paone deserves another crack at this, as she had the foresight to cast Kat Dennings in a lead role, but this just was not a successful project for her.
On Friday, Friendsgiving hopes to appeal to those looking for a new comedy. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough laughs to justify that. Fans of Dennings will appreciate a lot of what she’s doing, but she can’t overcome the flaws on her own. Sadly, even her funny antics aren’t going to do it here. If you’re absolutely desperate for a holiday picture, you could do worse, but you can certainly do a lot better, too. This one just doesn’t measure up.