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Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // October 27, 2020
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted March 2, 2021 | E-mail the Author

After both of their respective long-term relationships end, Abby (Kat Dennings) has a plan to ease her heartbreak: spend Thanksgiving with her lifelong best friend Molly (Malin Akerman). Unbeknownst to Abby, Molly's solution to heartbreak involves a handsome philanthropist rebound, Jeff (Jack Donnelly). Before Molly can tell Abby that Jeff will be present, Molly's friends Lauren (Aisha Tyler) and Dan (Deon Cole) beg to come over after their plans fall through, plus, Molly's mother Helen (Jane Seymour) shows up uninvited. Before long, what was supposed to be a one-on-one friend hang has turned into a crowded holiday celebration, with several potential new paramours for Abby, Molly's older ex Gunnar (Ryan Hanson), and several other friends and acquaintances in tow (Christine Taylor, Chelsea Peretti, and more).

As the midbudget film goes extinct in Hollywood, there has been an increase in low-budget comedies, largely set in a single location, with unbelievably stacked casts. Many of them are not very good, with improv being used as a crutch and everyone trying to make their mark in their five minutes of screentime with the most outrageous material. By comparison, Friendsgiving comes off quite nicely. It tends to inspire consistent smiles more than actual laughs, but writer/director Nicol Paone does her best to wrangle an overstuffed ensemble in the direction of dramatic arcs, and (most relievingly) never lets the movie get bogged down in unnecessary comic one-upsmanship.

As someone who was not a fan of "2 Broke Girls," it's nice to see Dennings in something more worthy of her comic and dramatic chops. Although the film could set up Abby's self-pity party as a character flaw with a bit more clarity, her sadness still carries weight through Dennings' performance. Her wry timing also makes for a nice contrast to Akerman's sunnier, goofier disposition, and the two actors have great screen chemistry together (as do Akerman and her real-life husband Donnelly). The primary leads are rounded out by Tyler; a scene with just the three of them having a quiet, funny conversation in the middle of the movie contains some of the film's most easygoing comic chemistry.

Judging the rest of the film's ensemble is a little harder. To some extent, the crowd that eventually accumulates is part of the plot. Should Paone be dinged for the chaos taking time away from the things her characters are going through? A climactic scene between Abby and Molly while the latter waits for a Lyft is simultaneously compelling, and also feels like a convenient addition of serious drama following 60 minutes of gags. Or what to make of a scene where Abby, having taken shrooms, meets her Fairy Gay Mothers (Wanda Sykes, Fortune Feimster, and Margaret Cho)? The scene is both unnecessarily indulgent and reasonably funny -- hard to say whether or not the diversion is worthwhile without knowing what it might have been replaced by. The same goes for Taylor (playing a woman so Botoxed she can barely speak) and Peretti (playing a sha-woman who non-denominationally blesses the meal by sampling part of it). The weakest link is probably Jane Seymour, who feels as if she's leaning too hard into her late-career reinvention as a go-for-broke presence in raunchy comedies, and whose arc, while understandable, doesn't add much to Molly's story.

The Blu-ray
The theatrical poster for Friendsgiving was cursed with an especially lazy Photoshopped collage of faces, and I'm sorry to say it has reappeared on the cover of this Blu-ray edition -- just a bunch of random pictures of the cast, slapped together in front of a faintly autumnal backdrop. For those who can't get enough of this image, you get two copies of it, one on the glossy slip and one on the sleeve, while the Blu-ray itself comes inside an eco-friendly Viva Elite case with a paper slip offering the digital copy code.

The Video and Audio
The somewhat uneven look of Friendsgiving's 1.78:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer all seems to stem from the original digital photography, which has a somewhat unpolished digital look. Highlights occasionally look blown out, black levels are on the weak side, and colors are all over the map (for example, the color of Abby's red/orange "nope." T-shirt fluctuates from scene to scene in the first fifteen minutes). Sound is a similarly basic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which presents a pretty straightforward directional mixture of music, dialogue, and effects. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.

The Extras
Three extras are included. The biggest is an audio commentary by writer/director Nicol Paone and actor/producer Malin Akerman. The real-life friendship between the two participants makes for a lively atmosphere as they recount their luck with the cast (both in terms of star power and camaraderie) on a tight shooting schedule, and the development of the screenplay out of details from Paone's own life (first conceived years before the movie finally got made). A minor quibble: the audio of the track is a little muffled and quiet (it wouldn't surprise me if it was recorded during the pandemic). Two video pieces wrap up the extras: "Making Friendsgiving: Serving Up Insanity" (13:26), aka "Laying It All Out on the Table," a pretty straightforward making-of featurette enlivened by fun interviews with the cast, and a gag reel (4:35), which is mostly different from the reel in the credits.

Trailers for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot and Guns Akimbo play before the movie. No trailer for Friendsgiving is included.

Friendsgiving rarely becomes more than lightly enjoyable, but even if it's a little strange to watch a movie about an increasingly large party in the middle of a pandemic (not the filmmakers' fault!), there's nothing wrong with pleasant. Those who like the cast will probably be satsified by renting it.

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