Review by Sean Boelman
With a cast full of comedic powerhouses like this, Nicol Paone’s festive comedy Friendsgiving should be an absolute riot. Yet despite seemingly having everything working in its favor, a painfully unfunny script wastes a charming premise and the talent of its ensemble, causing it to become one of the biggest disappointments of the year.
The film follows a woman who, having recently separated from her husband, decides to throw a Thanksgiving party along with her single friend, resulting in comedic hijinks. This premise is very simple in nature, but that is because the focus is less on the story and more on pairing up these comedians to share scenes together.
However, at a certain point, this formula of mixing-and-matching the characters to create new situations starts to feel old, especially since many of the jokes don’t land. There are only a few recurring gags, but much of the humor takes the form of one-offs that are more misses than hits. So much of the humor is stuff that has been done before, and more efficiently.
Ensemble comedy almost always comes at the expense of character development, but this is even more of a problem than usual here. There are two characters that get a majority of the movie’s substance. All of the rest are little more than archetypes that exist to put the two leads in increasingly awkward positions.
Additionally, the film’s attempts at having an emotional impact are entirely insufficient. The ending tries to wrap up all of the arcs into a nice little bow, but it feels forced and unearned. Paone tries to ground her story in an exploration of motherhood and sexuality, but it feels like an afterthought in a movie overfilled with crude humor.
The cast tries to do their best with the material, and they are obviously having fun with what was probably a very buoyant shoot, but it doesn’t translate into laughs. The big standout here is Kat Dennings, who shows that she has the clear potential to lead a great comedy if she is given the chance, getting the film’s few mild chuckles. The higher-profile actors like Malin Åkerman, Chelsea Peretti, Wanda Sykes, and Margaret Cho, among others, are mostly underused.
And on a technical level, the movie is very lackluster. One doesn’t expect the highest standards in production values from mainstream comedies like this, but there are some things that Paone could have done better. The visual and physical gags are shot in a way that is underwhelming. And even though the film is set at a Thanksgiving dinner, there aren’t any tantalizing food shots.
On paper, Friendsgiving has all the makings of a great holiday comedy, but it simply doesn’t come together. But since the actors seem to have enjoyed working together, maybe there will be another chance for them to share the screen again, hopefully in a better-written project.
Friendsgiving hits VOD on October 23.