You won’t want to miss this Thanksgiving dinner.
Synopsis: A controversial White House policy turns family member against family member when Chris, a high-strung progressive news junkie, and his more level headed wife Kai learn that citizens are being asked to sign a loyalty oath to the President, their reaction is disbelief, followed by idealistic refusal. But as the Thanksgiving deadline to sign approaches, the combination of sparring relatives, and the unexpected arrival of two government agents sends an already tense family gathering completely off the rails. (levelFilm)
Starring: Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, and Carrie Brownstein
Writer: Ike Barinholtz
Director: Ike Barinholtz
Rating: R (United States)
Running Time: 93mins
We now live in a society that is as divided as ever. Everyone, for the most part, stays with the teams with their respective beliefs and becomes closed off to any other ideas or beliefs. Thanksgiving dinners have usually been a hotbed for heated discussions between family members of different political and ideological persuasions. This new film tries to tackle these ideas in a dark comedy that is part Parenthood and part The Purge without ever reaching the heights of either. There was only so much it can really do with its low budget but it surprisingly takes that low budget and does quite a lot with it.
The story here was about an excitable liberal news junkie named Chris (Barinholtz) and his wife Kai (Haddish) who learn that all citizens of the United States were being asked to sign a loyalty oath to the President. Their immediate reaction was disbelief and they vowed not to sign the oath for ideological reasons. Their resolve would be tested once Chris’ opinionated family showed up for Thanksgiving dinner all while chaos was happening outside. Granted, the film arguably uses stereotypes to create various ideological viewpoints. Not many agreed with Chris’ beliefs and neither did most of his family.
Despite Chris and Kai’ intentions to have the days leading up to and including Thanksgiving conflict-free, it was never going to end up that way. As the country went, so did the family. It definitely wasn’t a slow burn but it was still entertaining to watch them self-destruct. However, they didn’t get very much time afterward as their focus shifted to a pair of government agents named Peter (John Cho) and Mason (Billy Magnussen) interrupted Thanksgiving. From there, the film became a single-location, home invasion thriller, forcing the divided family to band together to survive.
The last third of the film was tense to watch initially with plenty of dark humor dispersed throughout but it lost steam fairly quickly and got repetitive as the film seemed to forget the point that it was trying to make in the first place. The political satire surrounding the literal division of the country via the oath could have gone deeper by going beyond the family while some character subplots did disappear in favor for the larger plot. Though the other family members had a few moments, the story was mostly about Chris and his many insecurities.
The best part of the film was easily the performances and at the top of that list was Barinholtz as Chris. Being the writer, director, and a producer of the film, this didn’t actually happen by accident. He had the most to do and was fun to watch throughout as the only voice of reason. Of course, one’s enjoyment of the film will depend on the relatability of the character. Haddish was good as Kai despite being wasted for the most part. In this film, she got to show more of a dramatic side in addition to a few comedic moments, reacting to things in a way that only she could. Unfortunately, she was more of the straight man, reigning in Barinholtz’s Chris.
Overall, this was an ambitious dark comedy that failed to fully get its point across acting as a political satire of today’s divided society, utilizing its low budget to create a tense and occasionally funny experience which started off great enough but faltered and ran out of steam by the final third. However, it was still a more than decent directorial debut by Ike Barinholtz.