Alex: After the aforementioned disappointment of A Country Christmas Story, we needed a sure thing (there’s a movie reference here) to get the universe back in balance and for that, we took a step back to Thanksgiving for a minute. But just like ACCS, A Family Thanksgiving had a legacy to live up to. This was because it’s leading lady, Daphne Zuniga, not only gave us the 5-Eggnog classic, On Strike For Christmas, but was instrumental in endearing my wife and I to this particular sub-genre of movies. Perhaps even more.
In A Family Thanksgiving, the Zunes plays Claudia, a hotshot attorney in San Francisco, hoping to make partner at her law firm, which thrives on human misery. I’m sure at this point, I don’t even need to type this sentence because as we all know, Claudia cannot have a successful career and love in her life. The two things are mutually exclusive. It’s not even like guilt-free brownies where there might be a way to still be kind of into your job and have a boyfriend or family you care deeply about, it’s just totally impossible. Not only is Claudia way to busy to fall in love or even talk to the guy she sees at the coffee shop every morning who clearly has a crush on her but she pretty much never sees her sister any more, now that she’s had 2.5 kids herself and moved to the burbs. NOTE: When I say 2.5 kids, I am not trying to be cute or anything, it’s really true. Like I think there is a kid who comes in and out at various intervals and I count them as .5.
This year, Claudia does want to make it to her sister’s for Thanksgiving but guess what? Though he’s much less publicized than Ebenezer Scrooge, T-Day does have its own miserly villain and it’s Claudia’s reptilian overlord boss. Turns out that he’s got a big case for her, representing a heartless corporation who wants to build a mill on the site of some suburb’s beloved family park. Because that’s what people do all the time. Build factories in parks. And if it causes a few of the local children to grow flippers, meh, who gives a crap? To tie things together nicely too, this park just happens to be located in the very same suburb Claudia’s sister lives in. And even better, the case goes to trial on the day after Thanksgiving. Never mind that this is a national holiday and all California courts are always closed, the Stross Corporation has dreams to crush!
To cram for this big, unexpected case, Claudia needs her whole team of multi-ethnic legal eagles to work around the clock, including all night on Wednesday and most of Thanksgiving Thursday. Even the ones who don’t have speaking parts have to forgo their holiday plans because that is the choice we all have to make. Career OR Family. Science OR Religion. There is no middle ground here.
But as she is going to meet with the client that day, Claudia gets first introduced to a strange, older lady named Gina, played by what remains of Faye Dunaway’s face. Another side note here but I really have a hard time looking at people who destroy themselves with plastic surgery. It’s not because of any half-baked, we-all-have-to-be-natural sociological BS, it’s just it is really ugly to me. So many of them start to look like ghouls and sadly, this is true of several parts of Faye Dunaway. We all get old and our looks start to go but I guarantee you that she (and most people) would be much better off just letting the chips fall where they may here.
Anyway, this Gina is some kind of a magic lady. Maybe she’s an angel, maybe she’s a witch, we don’t really know. She tells Claudia that she wants to help her with her life, to which Claudia’s like, “What? My life is totally perfect. I’ve got everything I want.” Uh oh. Not only is it wrong to choose career over family but to brazenly declare you are actually happy with your life, that is just begging for some kind of delightful switcheroo.
And that’s exactly what happens. Suddenly, Claudia is no longer in San Francisco or wearing her expensive business suit. She’s in the suburbs, wearing mom clothes, standing in front of a house. As she tries to get her bearings, out of the house pop a couple of kids and a guy, who is apparently leaving the house and late for something. He calls her “honey” and the kids call her “mom” and I think you can figure out what’s going on here. The magic lady, Gina, has transported Claudia into an alternate reality life. In this reality, she didn’t become a hotshot lawyer. She had a couple of children and is actually married to the same dude who tries to talk to her every morning in the coffee shop.
Now this is the kind of story I like in one of these movies. Anything that involves magic or time travel or swapping lives or alternate universe lives or guardian angels or anything paranormal is right up my ally. I mean that. Instantly, I am 10 times more invested than I was in say, Snow Bride, which contained no magic (it didn’t even have a Snow Bride, technically). The other key is Zunes (Daphne Zuniga). I like her more than most of the other lead actresses they put in these things. Sure, she’s got some Melrose Place cache with me but it’s more than that. She’s not annoying or plucky or whiny or cold like a few of the others I’ve mentioned so far on this very review site. And even when she plays someone who’s all about career, like her character is for the first part of the movie (spoiler alert – she changes!), I still get the sense she is a decent person underneath and I’m pulling for her to win the movie at the end.
Another thing I should point out that alternate reality relationships, much like fake relationships, always work out. Another perfect record. So this guy she’s married to in the alternate reality, of course she is going to end up really falling for him. She’s pretty put off at first – after all, he’s a total stranger – but give it a very small amount of time and she’ll realize that this is what she should have been doing the whole time. Plus, did I mention that he makes his own furniture? Well, not as his job, he does something else that’s never explained (though probably soul-crushing) but his passion is to make his own furniture. And everybody should follow their dreams, right? Especially when that dream is the crown jewel of male attractiveness to women in key demos for the Hallmark and Lifetime channels.
I also should have mentioned that Claudia’s house in this alternate universe is right by her sister’s, in the little town with the park that the Stross Corporation wants to replace with a much more profitable factory. Except now that Claudia lives there and takes her kids to the park, she realizes that hey, parks are kind of nice. And people like to go to them. You see, being single and living in a city, there is no way you could have ever understood that. It’s just physically impossible to imagine anybody’s life outside of your own, no matter how intelligent you may be. So as you might guess, Claudia will end us using her lawyering skills for good, not evil, and help the town save this park. Although I don’t know how much lawyering skills it really requires to ask the soccer coach how many kids on his team who practice next to one of the Stross Corp’s other plants got sick. And luckily, California courts who are actually open the day after Thanksgiving will accept a soccer coach’s word as expert medical testimony. You’re sure as hell not going to catch the end of the LSU-Arkansas game screwing around with a bunch of doctors taking the stand and exhibits to be presented into evidence. So the plant makes kids sick, the soccer coach says so, judge finds in favor of the little town with the heart of gold, case dismissed!
But again, all snark aside, I liked watching this movie. I like the Zunes, I like the premise, I don’t like Faye Dunaway’s face, and I’m always happy to see Thanksgiving get a little run.. Only problem is that I have to learn how to build furniture now so my wife can find me attractive again.