Thanksgiving is a holiday dedicated to eating, shopping, football, more eating, besting half-in-the-bag uncles at political debates and many other delights. But one thing it’s definitely not about is sex. For most people shoveling down green bean casserole while wedged between your brother and Great Aunt Gladys isn’t a terribly arousing experience, but then filmmakers aren’t most people.
For some perplexing reason, there’s a surprising number movies that use America’s annual ode to consumption as a backdrop for titillating tales of sexual dysfunction and misdeeds. Infidelity, incest, seduction and sex parties, anything’s fair game on Thanksgiving. You might want to hit replay on Plains, Trains and Automobiles rather than popping these movies in during this year’s family gathering…
The House of Yes (1997)
College student Marty (Josh Hamilton) brings his fiancée Lesly (Tori Spelling) back to his family’s stately Virginia homestead for Thanksgiving, and family drama ensues. The source of most of that drama is Marty’s twin sister Jackie O (Parker Posey, fully committed as usual) who dresses like the real Jackie O and is obviously more than a little nutty. Marty and Jackie have an uncomfortably close relationship, but we don’t learn how close they truly are until later in the film when Marty and Jackie use a reenactment of the shooting of JFK as foreplay. (Yes, Rule 34 truly does apply to everything, even presidential assassinations.) Lesly of course walks in on this and is driven into the arms of Marty’s brother Anthony (Freddie Prinze Jr.) who talks Lesly into a sexual encounter by claiming he has a brain tumor. It truly must be The House of Yes, because assassinations and tumors sure aren’t going to get you any anywhere else.
Oscar (Aaron Stanford), an insufferably precocious Voltaire-quoting dweeb, returns home from boarding school and immediately sets his sights on seducing his new stepmom, Eve (Sigourney Weaver). It’s a classic Mrs. Robinson set-up, except of course Dustin Hoffman was playing a 21-year-old, while Oscar is a 15. Eve is immune to Oscar’s negligible charms, but he does end up in bed with Eve’s also firmly middle-aged friend, Diane (Bebe Neuwirth). Now, you’d think Diane might want to keep the crime she just committed on the down-low, but she’s surprisingly glib about the whole thing, casually telling her girlfriends about Oscar and dangling the tryst over his head during a particularly agonizing Thanksgiving dinner. It’s more than a little off-putting that Tadpole treats Oscar like the one who should be ashamed of his actions, but in the end his older-woman escapades are treated like a valuable educational experience rather than Huffington Post headline-fodder.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Hannah and Her Sisters is framed by a trio of Thanksgiving dinners hosted by the titular Hannah (Mia Farrow). At the first Thanksgiving, we learn that Hannah’s husband Elliot (Michael Caine) is sexually fixated on Hannah’s sister Lee (Barbara Hershey) and the two start an affair shortly thereafter. Their thing continues for a year, but at the movie’s second uncomfortable Thanksgiving, Lee breaks the relationship off. Hannah is one of the only movies on this list that ends on a positive note, as everybody has reconciled and cycled around to a happier place once the third Thanksgiving rolls around. Basically the message of the movie is, stick it out for enough Thanksgivings and maybe things will work themselves out. There’s worse advice.
The Vicious Kind (2009)
Are you a Parks and Recreation fan? Well, unless you want to stop liking Adam Scott, you may want to steer clear of The Vicious Kind. Scott plays Caleb, a hateful misogynist whose first line in The Vicious Kind is, “You know they’re all whores, right? Every woman you’ve ever known, and every woman you’ll ever meet.” It gets worse from there. Caleb’s little brother Peter (Alex Frost) brings his college sweetheart Emma (Brittany Snow) back home for Thanksgiving, and Caleb is immediately obsessed. Under the guise of “protecting his little brother” Caleb subjects Emma to multiple verbal barrages and even a physical assault at the grocery store and yet, inexplicably, Caleb and Emma end up in bed together. As the movie ends Emma is laden with guilt, while Caleb is rewarded for being really super horrible with a redemptive scene where he gets to reconnect with his father. Weird messages all around.
She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
Spike Lee’s debut concerns a love rectangle centered around Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) a sexually liberated woman juggling the conservative Jamie (Tommy Redmond Hicks), vain meathead Greer (John Canada Terrell) and witty, hot-headed Mars (Lee himself). Nola has no problem keeping her men in line, and the guys don’t seem to be particularly put off by the situation either (not enough to stop seeing Nola at least), but then Nola decides to push things just a little too far into the squirm zone by inviting all three men to Thanksgiving dinner. Jamie tries to take the high ground during the meal, but Greer is obnoxious throughout and soon Mars is challenging his rivals to a coin flip for Nola’s affections. By the time the evening winds around to a tense game of Scrabble, it’s not clear why any of these people put up with each other. In the end, nobody ends up with anybody, which is for the best as Nola isn’t a one-man woman. The rare breakup happy ending. Still, that Thanksgiving dinner was not a super great idea.
The Ice Storm (1997)
The ’70s, man. It was an era of changing sexual mores, experimentation and shockingly well-attended Thanksgiving break key parties. That may sound fun, but The Ice Storm wants to assure you it really, truly wasn’t. Ben and Elena Hood (Kevin Kline and Joan Allen) live next door to Jim and Janey Carver (Jamey Sheridan and Sigourney Weaver). Ben is having a barely-concealed affair with Janey, which is causing no end of repressed suburban angst, and everything comes to a head when all the adults decide to pop out for a post-Thanksgiving key party in the middle of an ice storm. Meanwhile, the Hoods’ daughter Wendy (Christina Ricci) is experimenting sexually with the Carvers’ sons Mikey and Sandy (Elijah Wood and Adam Hann-Byrd), sometimes while wearing a Richard Nixon mask, because, uh, symbolism? The Ice Storm, the movie that will make you sad your parent’s sex parties weren’t better.
So, why do so many movies seem to think mixing tryptophan and sexy times is a good idea? Maybe because it can be difficult to wring drama out of mundane family politics and white meat vs. dark meat conflicts, so why not spice things up a bit? Or maybe, just maybe, Thanksgiving is a sexy holiday. We’re all secretly hot and bothered as we lay gassy and immobile on the couch post dinner. No? Oh thank God.
Know any twisted Thanksgiving movies I missed? Any of the films I listed on your list of Holiday favorites? Hit the comments and let’s talk turkey.