There are few rewards to my annual overdose of Hallmark movies, but every once in a while I get lucky, like when there’s an extra slice of pumpkin pie and everyone insists I eat it. A Family Thanksgiving is a blessed relief from the unappetizing whipped fluff that usually accompanies my end-of-year TV buffet, and while it may be a predictable alternate reality story, at least it isn’t a bland one.
Daphne Zuniga plays Claudia, an ambitious lawyer who gets schooled on what really matters in life after she bails on another family gathering and forces her juniors to work on Thanksgiving. They are preparing for a big case that would result in the destruction of a local park even as it ensures her promotion, so naturally, the Harvard grad is going all out. As she power walks her way through the office, she meets Gina (Faye Dunaway), a transpersonal psychologist hired by the firm to aid in some transpersonal psychology-ing. When Claudia insists that she likes her life the way it is and that she doesn’t need other people to be happy, she finds herself mysteriously transported to the suburbs and into the life of a stay-at-home mom. Now saddled with two young children, a husband (Dan Payne), and a minivan, she goes batty trying to figure out what the hell has happened and how she can get back into her Armani suits and fast-paced corporate life.
I get delicious pleasure in seeing Zuniga try to keep it together while simultaneously losing it. As a resident of Hong Kong where the excessive work culture thrives and Claudia would be chastised for not pushing hard enough, this is as close as I’ll get to extending a righteous middle finger to the professional class. When she encounters the two floppy creatures that call her “mom,” it’s like she’s been locked in a cage with wild raccoons. She tosses jars of cookies and gummies to the kids, hoping to keep them at bay. Claudia also wriggles away from her husband, Bill, like he has the cooties, which is unfortunate since Bill is a dreamboat, likely the perennial winner of the Best Husband Award. He is gracious and forgiving, always willing to see the best in his wife. He’s also a carpenter, the original hipster if you’re into that sort of thing.
Zuniga and Payne are a natural, and photogenic, pair, so when their characters hit the inevitable rough spots, you’re eager for them to patch things up. Claudia’s type A personality shifts into overdrive once she accepts her suburban existence. Minivans and soccer practices be damned because she reverts to her true self before long, distributing bound action plans to each family member so that they too can overcome their mediocrity. Her new behavior, which is to say her old, also unsettles her sister (Gina Holden). She represents everything Claudia might have been if she just hadn’t been so career minded.
The movie doesn’t exactly shame women for pursuing a career though. While it mounts a spirited defense of mothers who choose not to work, Claudia’s legal skills and doggedness end up being quite valuable to the grassroots committee that her sister heads. Instead, it argues what all Hallmark movies do, family is best. Now go grab a mug of mulled wine and write a card to your mom.
Dir: Neill Fearnley
Writer: Emily Baer
Cast: Daphne Zuniga, Faye Dunaway, Gina Holden, Dan Payne
Time: 83 min
Country: United States