Turkey talk: Feast your eyes on cinema’s worst Thanksgiving dinners
As America becomes increasingly divided into social bubbles based on race, class, age, religion and political beliefs, the bubble-bursting free-for-all known as Thanksgiving dinner has never been more perilous. For one day of the year, evangelicals and atheists, vegans and meat-eaters, children and seniors, DC fanboys and Marvel fanboys—they all sit down at the same table and make a futile attempt at non-offensive conversation. To help recapture that feeling of gritted-teeth terror all year-round, here’s a list of movie Thanksgiving dinners that are even more awkward than your own.
The Gold Rush
The scene in this 1925 silent classic where Charlie Chaplin’s starving prospector boils and eats his own shoe is one of the comedy legend’s best-known bits, but many people forget that the set-up for the gag is a title card that reads: “Thanksgiving Dinner.” While his hulking partner Big Jim tears into the shoe with his bare hands, The Little Tramp uses a knife and fork, swirling and slurping his shoelaces like spaghetti and sucking the “meat” off the shoe nails as though they were turkey bones.
Awkward Thanksgiving table talk: It’s a silent movie, so nobody says anything, but Big Jim later contemplates cannibalism after hallucinating Chaplin as a giant chicken, and that’s more awkward than words can say.
The Thanksgiving sequence in George Stevens’ epic 1956 adaptation of the Edna Ferber novel begins like something straight out of Norman Rockwell. We see three adorable little children scatter feed for their pet turkey, with one child sweetly murmuring, “Eat your dinner like a good boy, Pedro.” It’s when a perfectly roasted Pedro shows up on a serving platter that the wholesome mood of the scene turns sour. As they realize that their beloved pet turkey is getting carved up before their eyes, all three kids go into full breakdown mode and flee the room.
Awkward Thanksgiving table talk: "That Pedro? No! NOOOOO!!!”
Technically, no one in this 1976 Best Picture winner ever makes it to Thanksgiving dinner, because although mousy pet store worker Adrian (Talia Shire) has prepared a holiday dinner, her brother Paulie (Burt Young) comes home drunk and forces her to go out with his friend Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), a palooka prizefighter and mob enforcer. You know, typical big brother stuff. This starts a terrible screaming match, with Adrian barricading herself in the bedroom and Paulie tossing the turkey out the back door.
Awkward Thanksgiving table talk: “You want the bird? Go in the alley and eat the bird!”
Broadway Danny Rose
Hannah and Her Sisters is generally considered Woody Allen’s “Thanksgiving movie,” but this oft-overlooked 1984 black-and-white comedy also culminates on the holiday. Of course, the feast is significantly more downscale here, as luckless talent agent Danny Rose (Allen) passes out frozen turkey dinners and Tab sodas to his menagerie of unemployable clients.
Awkward Thanksgiving table talk: “I’ve had a bad year. If things don’t pick up for me, I’m going to be selling storm windows soon.”
You never know what might ignite a generations-spanning rift between close family members. For Russian Jewish immigrant siblings Sam and Gabriel Krichinsky, it was the time that suburbanite Sam (Armin Mueller-Stahl), pressured by hungry youngsters and a new generation eager to buck traditions, decided to carve the Thanksgiving turkey before a tardy Gabriel arrived from the city. In this underrated third piece of Barry Levinson’s “Baltimore Trilogy,” that simple slight creates an unresolvable estrangement between brothers.
Awkward Thanksgiving table talk: “You started without me? You cut the turkey without me?”
Addams Family Values
More subversion of holiday wholesomeness, this time with a touch of comedic nihilism. Cast in an outrageously racist Thanksgiving pageant as Pocahontas, summer camp outcast Wednesday Addams (Christina Ricci) goes wildly off-script, transforming the play’s pandering text into an indictment of colonialism and leading a band of bullied misfits to rise against their oppressors. In no time, sets are burned, mean girls are catapulted into the lake and the vile camp counselors are roasted over a spit.
Awkward Thanksgiving table talk: “I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground.”
Family dinners are awkward enough without secret identities, but try to get a superhero and his arch-nemesis to sit down at the same table, and you’re asking for trouble. Secretly evil Norman Osborn (aka Green Goblin) shows up at the Parker household for Thanksgiving, ostensibly to meet his son Harry’s new girlfriend, Mary Jane. Norman figures out Spider-Man’s secret identity when Peter Parker swings in with a side dish ("I had to beat an old lady with a stick to get these cranberries."). The villain bails on dinner to do evil stuff, but not before loudly labeling Mary Jane a gold-digging tramp.
Awkward Thanksgiving table talk: “That creep is my father!”
In Ang Lee’s 2005 romantic tragedy, an emasculating father-in-law inflames an already tense domestic situation for Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), a closeted homosexual drowning in a loveless marriage. After snatching the turkey carving tools right out of his son-in-law’s hands ("Stud Duck do the carving around here!"), the steamrolling Thanksgiving guest undermines Jack’s parental discipline and questions his manhood, finally provoking the inevitable tableside explosion.
Awkward Thanksgiving table talk: "This is my house, this is my child and you are my guest, and you sit down before I knock your ignorant ass into next week!”