Dysfunctional Pals Get More Than They Bargained for in ‘Friendsgiving’

For her directorial debut, Nicol Paone, who has been acting and writing for over 20 years, looked to her own life and social circle for inspiration, and the result is “Friendsgiving,” a Ben Stiller-produced ensemble comedy about an eclectic group of friends who assemble to celebrate Thanksgiving in Los Angeles. Kat Dennings is Abby, Paone’s onscreen counterpart who is still grieving over being dumped by her girlfriend, a controlling Hollywood power lesbian, at the beginning of the year. She hopes to spend Thanksgiving commisterating with her best friend, recently divorced actress and new mom Molly (Malin Akerman), but what she doesn’t count on is a host of last-minute invitees getting in the way of her wallowing.

While Abby cannot even fathom dating again, Molly is preoccupied with her boyfriend of 17 days, adorable but broke Brit Jeff (Akerman’s real-life husband Jack Donnelly). Despite only knowing each other a short time, Jeff declares his devotion to her and her infant son, and although she’s supposedly only interested in a rebound to make her feel sexy again, she relents and invites him to Thanksgiving, much to Abby’s dismay. The guest list gets even bigger after Molly’s friend Lauren (Aisha Tyler) invites herself and her family, including her husband, Dan (Deon Cole, who is underutilized in this straight role). 

Others are hastily added to the mix, including Molly’s botox-obsessed agent, Brianne (Christine Taylor), Brianne’s obnoxious husband Rick (Andrew Santino), wannabe shaman Claire (Chelsea Peretti, who’s funniest when Claire slips and drops the woke new age-y act), and a trio of lesbians suitors for Abby (Rhea Butler, Carla Jimenez, Brianna Baker), make for an interesting evening. To further complicate things, Helen (Jane Seymour), Molly’s Swedish former party girl mother shows up uninvited, and she proceeds to invite Gunnar (Ryan Hansen), a somewhat decent guy Molly dated before her marriage. Once the guests start arriving, the film takes on more of a slice-of-life feel, and a lot of humor comes out of these diverse characters mixing together.

While Molly navigates all of this craziness, Abby initially attempts to help out in the kitchen alongside Jeff, but eventually breaks down after discovering that her ex is engaged. She takes some psychedelic mushrooms brought by Lauren and finds refugee in the nursery, where she is visited by her three “fairy gay mothers” (Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Fortune Feimster). Having only come out at 29, Abby is still finding herself and figuring out her sexuality in her thirties, and through her, Paone makes it clear that there is no one way to be a lesbian.

One criticism of “Friendsgiving” has to do with the character of Jeff. Probably because Akerman and Donnelly are a real-life couple, the pair are delightful together on screen, and Donnelly is especially charming. The problem is, there is a push for the viewer to root against the relationship and for Molly to get back together with Gunnar, despite the fact that he was unfaithful to her while they were together.

All in all, “Friendsgiving” is the cinematic equivalent of Thanksgiving meal — satisfying, warm and cozy. As it was drawn from Paone’s own life, a lot of the emotions and conversations feel authentic. She also doesn’t try too hard for over-the-top rom-com ending, focusing instead on the female relationships.

Friendsgiving” releases Oct. 23 on VOD and in select cities.