Actress Nicol Paone puts a different spin on a traditional holiday for her directorial debut in Saban Film’s Friendsgiving. Hollywood actress Molly (Malin Akerman) is looking forward to a laid-back Thanksgiving with her best friend Abby (Kat Dennings). But the friends’ plans for a quiet turkey dinner go up in smoke when Molly’s new boyfriend Jeff (Jack Donnelly) and her flamboyant mother, Helen (Jane Seymour), join the festivities.
Throw in some party crashers, which includes Molly’s old flame Gunnar (Ryan Hansen), a wannabe shaman (Chelsea Peretti), and a seemingly perfect couple (Deon Cole and Aisha Tyler). It’s a recipe for a comically chaotic holiday no one will ever forget—even if they wanted to!
The moments Friendsgiving opens up with Molly performing a dominatrix act on her new beau Jeff, while listening to a baby monitor; it’s crystal clear that screenwriter Nicol Paone wants to put the comedic skills of ladies first in the film and have a good time. Malin Akerman and Jack Donnelly, who portray Molly and Jeff, are a real life married couple, so I can’t help but think the entire scene may have been improvisation.
We are then introduced to Kat Denning’s character of Abby shopping for groceries for the holiday meal. Our introduction to Abby culminates in a humorous “Karen” moment displaying Denning’s natural comedic flair. As the film moves along, it appears that Malin Akerman’s Molly is going to be the straight woman to Kat Denning’s comedic relief as Abby. However, as the houseguests start to arrive, I concluded that first time director and writer Nicol Paone wants to give everyone a chance to shine.
When we meet Molly’s agent Rick (Andrew Santino) and his new wife, Brianne (Christine Taylor), they quickly fall into the elite Hollywood type caricatures. Rick is happy to have a blonde trophy wife who is relishing in the Botox operation she had two days before the Thanksgiving holiday. Why anyone would decide to have cosmetic surgery on their face right before a holiday is beyond me. However, the joke works, and Taylor is more than up to the role’s challenge that relies on facial expressions instead of dialogue.
One of my favorite things about the film was the script’s handling of Abby’s sexuality. While Abby is a lesbian, the screenplay doesn’t resort to cheap jokes; instead, it relies on everyone in Abby’s circle attempting to set her up with potential matches. Director Nicol Paone uses a creative technique that mimics a dating app to introduce the suitors. There’s also a great scene involving Fairy Gay Mother’s portrayed by comedians Fortune Feimster, Wanda Sykes, and Margret Cho.
I was also fond of Nicol Paone’s characterization of Lauren (Aisha Tyler) and Dan (Deon Cole). When there is a black nuclear family, they come off as tokenized in comedies, but Paone’s script fleshes them out just enough. Deon Cole’s character of Dan has a line in the film where he mentions that he’s here to support his wife, but Christmas is all his. I’m sure that many married men will find something to relate to in the character of Dan. Tyler gets a chance to cut loose as well, and I always enjoy seeing her comedic moxie on screen.
My only gripe with the film was the lack of screen time for Deon Cole. I’m a massive fan of his work on Blackish and his stand up, so I wanted to see a bit more from him in addition to some of the other male characters. Nevertheless, with a brief run time of 95 minutes Friendsgiving is a harmless comedy. As soon as I saw the Friendsgiving title, I thought back on my time in the Air Force. When I served my country, I spent three turkey days away from my family and had to rely on friends. While I don’t foresee the film becoming a holiday classic, it is a promising debut from a first-time director, which I will recommend.
Final Grade B-
Friendsgiving will open in limited theaters, digital and on demand Friday October 23rd
A Blu Ray & DVD release will arrive on Tuesday October 27th