'Friendsgiving': Film Review

Friendsgiving
Courtesy of Saban Films

(Left to right) Aisha Tyler and Malin Åkerman in a scene from Friendsgiving

A little undercooked.
10/23/2020

Malin Akerman and Kat Dennings play friends whose low-key holiday becomes a bash in Nicol Paone's directing debut.

A holiday plan for two lifelong friends to drown their sorrows in pie turns into something much more sociable in Friendsgiving, the writing-directing debut of comic actress Nicole Paone. Jam-packed with familiar names, it is most interested in those besties (played by Malin Akerman and Kat Dennings), whose exasperated complaints about failed relationships don't deliver the laughs they seem intended to. While some characters on the ever-escalating guest list provide the pair with welcome comic distraction, this day-to-night hangout pic doesn't really take flight.

We meet Akerman's Molly as she's engaging in some faux S&M play with Jeff (Jack Donnelly). Unfortunately, her improvised dominatrix banter is full of nasty remarks about her recent divorce and the pain of childbirth. Add that to the noises from her baby monitor, and Molly's not quite setting the mood. Still, Jeff's clearly the smitten party in this weeks-old fling, and talks his way into an invitation to join Molly, her infant and Abby (Dennings) for their planned pie feast later in the day. So does Aisha Tyler's Lauren, who insists Molly needs some support right now, but really just wants to get her family out of the house.

Lauren's picture-perfect family (with two nice kids and a handsome husband played by Deon Cole) would, in the real world, already have their own Thanksgiving plans. And in the real world, Lauren would never think of inviting half of Los Angeles over to Molly's house without warning the host. But Tyler's performance is one of the film's most natural, so let's forgive Lauren for the script's implausibilities.

Also implausible, for those who like a dash of believability in their comedies: A third person independently crashing the party is Molly's mom — who has flown in unannounced from her native Sweden. Helen (Jane Seymour) is a fifth-marriage hedonist who harangues her daughter about ditching her bitterness and returning to the wedding chapel. To that end, she invites Molly's onetime boyfriend Gunnar (Ryan Hansen), a hunky actor who would probably make Jeff insecure if he weren't the sort of globe-trotting philanthropist who can comfortably sit down to Thanksgiving dinner without a shirt on.

This list of uninvited guests could go on considerably longer, but Abby's head is already about to explode. She was dumped by her (controlling, unloving) girlfriend 11 months ago, and thinks the world should still be treating her with kid gloves. Dennings glowers like a champ, but Paone's dialogue stomps past plenty of opportunities to tease the character about her self-absorption.

As the ensemble continues to expand, Paone finds likable, if not side-splitting, things to focus on: Helen's inappropriate flirtation with Gunnar; the covert addition of shrooms to the menu; a parade of women, each an extreme lesbian stereotype, who've been called in as possible love interests for the uninterested Abby.

But as in that opening sex scene, the need to keep tabs on a baby pulls the movie back from some funny directions it might want to go. In fact, the tot winds up at the center of a crisis in which our two best friends finally have it out, admitting how fed up they are with each other. That disagreement won't last, of course. But Friendsgiving doesn't generate enough sense of connection between the two friends to make us sigh with relief when they finally patch things up over leftovers.

Production company: Red Hour
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Malin Akerman, Kat Dennings, Jane Seymour, Jack Donnelly, Aisha Tyler, Ryan Hansen, Deon Cole, Chelsea Peretti
Director-Screenwriter: Nicol Paone
Producers: Haroon Saleem, Malin Akerman, Ben Stiller, Nicholas Weinstock
Executive producers: Tara L. Craig, Paris Kassidokostas-Latsis, Terry Dougas, Jean-Luc De Fanti
Director of photography: Neil Shapiro
Production designer: Shannon Kemp
Costume designer: Anthony Tran
Editor: Julie Cohen
Composer: Jessica Weiss
Casting director: Julie Ashton-Barson

Rated R, 95 minutes