Thanksgiving is a time for family. A holiday with no religious affiliation, a day filled with food and pie and football. The day begins with cooking and ends with cleaning. Somewhere in there the Lions will probably lose and someone will proclaim that Jim Harbuagh “really hasn’t been given enough credit.” Tears will be shed, a toddler will hit their head on a foosball table and the family will take their collective ability to talk at the speed of light and use it to verbally berate some politician or ghost of the family’s past. Once the tryptophan starts wearing off and everyone has woken up from their mid afternoon naps, only one thing remains: choosing a movie to watch that night.
Choosing a movie to watch with any group larger than two can be difficult. Studies have shown that the more options human beings are given the more difficult it is for them to make a decision. When faced with only two options it is much easier for our brains to weigh the pros and cons of each and by directly comparing the two come to a decision. This is why sometimes you find yourself having analysis paralysis when staring at your Netflix, unable to make any kind of decision. It’s hard enough for a single person to decide on a movie to watch when the entire history of cinema is available to them at the touch of a button, but throw in 10 more people of varying ages and dispositions and you’ve just created the perfect recipe for endless arguing.
My grandparents have a taste that consists almost exclusively of really bad romantic comedies from 2004. My uncle always wants to watch “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Some people like action movies and some hate them. My mom won’t watch anything that doesn’t pass “the Mom scare test.” Harry Potter barely passes. I have a cousin who went through a long period of time where he would only watch Disney’s “Miracle.” Trying to find a movie that is suitable for everyone is a Sisyphean task not worth the trouble. Soon someone will tell me, “You’re the movie guy, Ian, find something everyone will like.” Right. Because that’s what they’re teaching me in my film classes, where to find the list of movies that are suitable for both 70-year-old women and teenage boys.
They used to make movies that fit this description. We’ve watched them all. “Back to the Future.” “The Karate Kid.” “Ferris Bueller.” There is a whole genre of what I like to call “true family comedies” that no longer exists. Films that have a real story and real characters that are funny and intelligent and can be enjoyed by all ages. There aren’t really movies like this anymore. Nowadays there are three kinds of comedies made and none of them check all the boxes. There are super raunchy R-rated films like “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids,” there are movies like “RV” that are unwatchable if you’re over the age of nine and there is whatever Adam Sandler crapped out most recently. None of these appeal to everyone in my family.
The sheer number of options available today makes finding a movie an endless quest that will make you wish you had never suggested it. My grandfather has a penchant for scrolling mindlessly through the new releases on Comcast OnDemand. With no real knowledge of what any of these movies are about, you’ll often find him proclaim some R-rated raunch fest to “look kind of interesting” or to go “What is Ant Man? Is that a real movie?” Don’t even get me started on my dad’s strange obsession with Robert Downey Jr. despite having not watched anything starring the man in almost a decade. “I heard the new Robert Downey is good, maybe everyone will like that” he’ll proclaim before my brother reminds him that he wouldn’t understand “Avengers: Infinity War” if we gave him a Marvel encyclopedia to keep next to him the entire time. Inevitably someone will remember that “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” exists and will try to convince the rest of the family that we haven’t seen it a dozen times before.
In the end, a “Seinfeld” DVD will hit the back of the player and everyone will be more or less content. After an episode and a half the grandparents are basically asleep, my parents aren’t far behind them and the Wii is calling and it’s saying let’s play “Madden 2008.” If anyone reaches the third episode on the disk they’ve made it farther than any of us could have anticipated. Slowly the beds are filled. A last piece of pie is snuck out of the kitchen. An aunt laughs over a game of Scrabble as my grandfather tries to play the word “Hrot” claiming that it is an “obscure plant that can only be found in Thailand.” Discarded movies that had no chance of being chosen litter the ground. Tomorrow will see the usual criticism of Black Friday, bewilderment at how quickly the apple crumb pie was eaten and discussion of a possible trip to the movies. That might lead to an argument too. Most of the movies in the theaters are bad after all. Why not just stay in and watch something at home? What should we watch? No one knows. It all begins again. We don’t really care though, because it’s never really been about the movie. It’s just about being together. Year in and year out, that’s still something to be thankful for.