Thanksgiving has been the theme of a number of challenging and entertaining films in recent years.
Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose, tells the story of a New York theatrical agent whose clients are mostly what society—and the entertainment business—considers losers. The film ends with a touching Thanksgiving dinner at Danny’s apartment. All his “acts” gather for TV dinners. Yet the love of Danny Rose for his washed-up clients is part of the charm of his Thanksgiving “feast” and tells us something about all our efforts to create community around a meal.
In 2000, director Gurinda Chadha gave us What’s Cooking? It’s a story which revolves around four families in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, who reflect the diversity found in our big cities today. Each family struggles with its own internal problems, and also must react to their neighborhood and its issues. In the end, the meaning of love and family help to ground the story at the Thanksgiving celebration.
A 2003 movie, Pieces of April, written and directed by Peter Hedges and starring Katie Holmes, is (like the other two films), concerned with adult themes, situations and language, but with an important story. A young woman, April Burns, lives in near-poverty in New York City. She invites her dysfunctional family to drive into the city from Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, in an effort to reconcile with them. April has to cope with a lot of problems, not the least of which is the fact that her stove isn’t working. April’s mother is dying of cancer, and this will probably be her final Thanksgiving. The film is alternately funny and sad, but in the end teaches a lot about the power of food and family.
There are many other “food films” beyond the traditional Thanksgiving theme as well. Perhaps readers of our blog could suggest their favorites. Film makers turn again and again to food and dining together—in simple or elaborate settings, in various ethnic contexts—as a way to communicate values. A delightful small Italian film, Pranzo di Ferragosto (“Mid-August Lunch”), made in 2008, finally made it to my city this year. As an Italian-American, who cared for an aging mother for many years, I was moved by the gathering of elderly mothers who celebrated an Italian feast with a beleaguered son/caregiver.
Food films are fun; they vary in their quality and value. The same might be said for our Thanksgiving feast this year with family. As we try our best, despite our individual problems, our stumbling economy and our world’s problems, we bring to this year’s family meal our shared gratitude. The “menu” of all those elements makes for a realistic, approach to gratitude, to life and to our faith in the Giver of all gifts.
Photo credit for feature photo: Francesco Marino