Alex: Since Christmas is still several days off here and Thanksgiving is kind of our entry point into the holiday season, the Hallmark Channel has come up with a few T-day movies to whet our appetite. The first one we watched this year was The Thanksgiving House, starring Emily Rose and Justin Bruening. They both kind of looked familiar but I didn’t really know who either of them were going in, bucking the rich tradition of these films where they take washed-up stars you kind of remember from the 80s or 90s and give them one last chance before fading into the ether. That sounds like a very snarky comment, I know, but I actually don’t mean it to be. One of the great things about these movies is seeing pseudo stars of yesteryear come back to my TV set for one last, big score. Like the way Daphne Zuniga has reinvented herself as a Christmas star is truly a thing of beauty, but I will likely get into that much later in other posts.
Anyway, even though the lead roles aren’t familiar, The Thanksgiving House does give us Bruce Boxleitner (Tron, Babylon 5, but for me, will always be the Scarecrow) AND Lindsay Wagner (Bionic Woman, lots of made-for-TV movies in the 70s/80s, commercials) in supporting roles so there is some warm, comforting familiar territory here. But on to the movie!
Speaking of familiar territory, Emily Rose plays a young, successful lawyer who is all about business. Success, getting ahead, etc. But guess what? That doesn’t leave her much time for love. She does have a boyfriend though. But guess what again? Any time you start one of these movies with a boyfriend or girlfriend, there is no way in hell you are going to end the movie with them. Because that boyfriend or girlfriend is a jerk and their true colors will eventually be revealed, right around the time you fall into the arms of the one you’re supposed to end up with. So Emily Rose (her name is Mary in the movie) inherits her aunt’s house at the beginning. It is in Plymouth, MA and she and her soon-to-be-revealing-himself-as-a-dick boyfriend go down there to check it out. It holds a lot of memories for Mary. You see, it was the site of her last, pleasant family memory, which was a Thanksgiving when she was about 8 or so. Shortly thereafter, her parents got divorced. She refers to it as the “autumn before the divorce”, which made me laugh for some reason. Maybe because you would just say something like, “that was the last Thanksgiving before the divorce” or just “before the divorce.” You probably wouldn’t even say “autumn” period and even if you would, you wouldn’t shoehorn it in like that.
So she’s down there at her aunt’s place and suddenly she sees some dude outside digging around in the yard. This is Justin Bruening’s character, Everett Mather. Everett Mather. His name is Everett Mather. I am repeating that a lot because people in the movie do. They say his full name early and often. And since his name is Everett Mather and his father’s name is Parker Mather, it made me think that this was probably a book before getting adapted into this wonderful movie because just like “the autumn before the divorce”, those are names people just don’t have outside of bookworld. And Everett Mather is out there digging in her yard because he’s looking for soil samples or something. Why? We don’t know yet but he tells Mary that her Aunt was cool with him doing this. Mary is NOT at all cool with him doing this and acts like a total bitch to him. In fact, that is an ongoing problem with this film. While it’s somewhat customary for the female lead in particular to be a bitch at first but then, over time, the spirit of Christmas kind of melts her heart and she becomes sweet enough to love the male lead. This doesn’t really happen in the Thanksgiving House. Mary kind of drops a little of that bitch attitude but not enough for my tastes. She never truly redeems herself and I just can’t root for her.
However, the same cannot be said for Everett Mather. He is a sweet, plucky little local historian intent on discovering the site of the very first Thanksgiving between the pilgrims and the Indians. That’s adorable! In preparation for the role as kind of a scientist type, I think Justin Bruening watched some old movies with Jeff Goldblum playing a scientist type himself as he adopts that awkward, stuttering delivery to some degree. At some point in the movie though, this seems to settle down. Maybe because they were trying to show the character getting more comfortable, maybe they told Justin Bruening to knock it off at some point, or maybe he just forgot about it.
I just realized that this review is taking much longer than I anticipated so I will try to speed things up. Everett thinks Mary’s house is likely the site of the very first Thanksgiving. She doesn’t think so. In fact, she’s sure it isn’t for reasons that were never made clear. Shocker, they don’t get along at first. She even sues him or at least presents him with a cease-and-desist letter. Her dick boyfriend though is excited about all the money they could make if indeed this house really IS the site of the very first Thanksgiving. He likes money a lot. His license plate reads “Mo Money”, if memory serves. To make matters even worse, there is some local skank blogger who is annoyingly trying to uncover all the facts here, causing more friction between Everett and Mary.
But here’s a shocker: They start to fall in love regardless. Not because Mary really warms up or changes all that much, just mainly because the script says so. The Scarecrow and Wags play Everett’s parents and I think they kind of endear themselves to Mary. She was never part of a real family, remember, as her parents got divorced after that autumn. Which is the whole reason she is so cold and dates jerks and doesn’t like Thanksgiving. Just that one event has sent her life on a collision course with loneliness. But maybe Everett and his mom and dad can change all that?
And they do, sort of. See, here is the weird thing about this movie and a lot of these Hallmark/Lifetime flicks. They often seem to run out of time. Like somewhere during the filming process, they don’t manage things well and suddenly realize, “Oh crap! We’ve only got one day of shooting left and have to end this thing!” Now, I have heard that most movies don’t film things sequentially at all but it almost seems like these ones do because endings can come very suddenly and without closure of details you thought were important.
For instance, in the case of the Thanksgiving House, remember how I told you several times about Mary’s dick boyfriend? Well, they do break up as she starts to fall for nice guy Everett. But he still wants the Thanksgiving House. He wants to get it declared a national landmark and charge admission and make mo’ money, like his license plate says. And even though he seemingly has no claim to it, he is looking for a way he can weasel it out from under Mary and the US Government who, by the way, would probably just take the property itself once it was proven that it was indeed the site of the very first Thanksgiving. Working with that skank blogger reporter chick, the two start to devise a very real-sounding plan as to how they are going to pull this off. I have no idea what’s in it for the skank but she and the dick seem pretty made for each other and their last scene in the film is them going off on a Thanksgiving cruise together, discussing their fiendish schemes and getting very excited about said schemes.
But we never find out exactly what happens with this. Like I said, we never see those characters again. They don’t hatch the scheme they are talking about, nor do they get any kind of comeuppance. What’s more, the whole plot point the movie has been building up to – is this or is this not the site of the 1st Thanksgiving – gets diffused oddly. It IS the site of the 1st Thanksgiving, as Everett reveals to Mary on Thanksgiving Day. But that info is communicated to us in this bizarre, muffled tone and Everett Mather just somehow, casually decides that the resolution of this is that there will be a plaque outside the house, commemorating its role in our history, and that’s it. Is the government going to try to purchase it from Mary? Will it become a tourist attraction, now that word gets out about its existence? And of course, what ever happened with the dick ex-boyfriend and the skank blogger girl? Maybe their boat just sank? We don’t know the answer to any of these questions, I’m afraid, because once again, I feel like the movie just ran out of time. Everett takes Mary outside and pushes her on a swing and the credits roll. Mary seems pretty happy on the swing but she kind of had a sour puss during the entire Thanksgiving dinner which preceded the swinging, furthering my belief that she is not a likeable nor a redeemed character. Especially when the movie had no more curveballs to throw at us. She even invited her estranged father over to that dinner and they had seemingly made up. So cheer the hell up, Mary.
There you have it. That is my review of the Thanksgiving House. I want to give it rating and we are still kind of working out how we do that. For now, let’s go with eggnogs. As in, this is how many alcoholic beverages you may need to actually watch this film.
So out of a possible 5, I am going to give this…
Just enough to get you in the spirit but any more might make you angry at Mary and her sour puss as well as the filmmakers for seemingly not managing their time better.