“Dinner with Friends” (Friendsgiving) (2020)
Running time: 95 minutes
Written and Directed by: Nicol Paone
Featuring: Malin Åkerman, Kat Dennings, Aisha Tyler, Chelsea Peretti, Christine Taylor, Jane Seymour, Deon Cole, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Fortune Feimster, Jack Donnelly and Ryan Hansen
Released recently on DVD is the movie “Dinner with Friends” (2020) which has been retitled for distribution outside of the US, its original title was “Friendsgiving” a play on the word Thanksgiving which is a popular holiday in the US one that is supposed to bring family and friends together it began as a day of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. That is an old fashioned look at what the Holiday is but of course it has changed over the years, not only that it has become a mainstay of popular culture so producing a movie based around the day is not new so it may seem like a no brainer to create a comedy within that familiar framework.
Many holidays especially those involving bringing families together around a table are fraught with conflict as anyone who has been involved with one will tell you. They become most fractious when those family members have either not met for some time or only come together around these times. So in thinking about that what the movie “Dinner with Friends” is attempting to bring out is that friends and family are completely interchangeable, which of course is completely flawed as the old saying goes, you choose your friends, you don’t choose your family.
The movie is based around Molly (Malin Akerman), apparently: A semi-famous actor and recently divorced single mom, she has a career on the up, an adorable baby and a vast house in plush Los Angeles suburbia, though we’re told repeatedly that she’s in a tailspin. Cue a big social blowout on Thanksgiving, so she can shake out the cobwebs and be her best self. A photo-album opening credit sequence helpfully outlines the connection between Molly and her childhood best friend (and now roommate) Abby (Kat Dennings), a lightly caustic, newly-out lesbian still reeling from a breakup with her first female partner. Molly and Abby’s initial plan for the holiday is simply to eat their feelings together with only the former’s infant son for company. However, when Molly invites vivacious mutual friend Lauren (Aisha Tyler) to join them after her family’s travel plans fall through, and further extends the invitation to her puppyish British rebound lover Jeff (Jack Donnelly), the floodgates are opened and the house party builds.
It may come as not surprise that writer/director Nicol Paone has never written or directed a feature before “Dinner with Friends” which becomes obvious as there is really very little plot and the narrative is built around seperate scenes that are tenuously linked together with little regard for the actual holiday itself. It may come, however, as no surprise that Paone is mostly known as an actress which may explain how she has been able to bring in many actors that are far too good for this material. In fact their presence may indicate material of a far better nature but after half an hour audiences know exactly what they are watching and it is not great, which is a real shame as there have been plenty of movies similar to this, one excellent example is the Christmas based comedy/drama “The Family Stone” (2005) that proved there is not only a market for this genre but it can be done in an original way while using a family framework.
In terms of the casting while not an absolutely A grade one it is definitely a all B cast which is saying something as a majority of the main characters are female, as well as mostly from underrepresented demographics which at times seems a little pandering and obvious but the main character is an actress and obviously a far left one at that. The problem is that when creating conflict with people who are all pretty much the same it can be not only difficult but unbelievable especially in 2021 when we know that people are actually drawn apart along political lines. So no matter that the cast includes Malin Åkerman, Kat Dennings, Aisha Tyler, Chelsea Peretti, Christine Taylor, Jane Seymour, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Jack Donnelly and Ryan Hansen they all seem a little one note and wasted. There is no doubt that this cast are known for their comedic chops so it is a wonder that they are unable to breathe some life and originality into this movie.
It is difficult to avoid that this movie has been released into a time of pandemic which means many people have not or should not have had gatherings like this to avoid the spread of infection. So the actual narrative is full of light as well as a pop music soundtrack that seems intent on making sure people know this is a light affair, but there is now a darkness that envelops gatherings of all kinds and that is missed here. If that material has been better or original then the idea of a pandemic could have been curtailed but that is the lens in which everything is now viewed at least for the immediate present as well the future.