The first twenty minutes of “Thanksgiving” resemble an extended Vampire Weekend music video, but devoid of any self-mocking irony. Cliched fauxhemian archetypes prepare and then host an improbable thanksgiving dinner (not one of these childless transplants goes home to family?) for their similarly oblivious, seemingly insufferable yupster friends in an ornate apartment surrounded by antiquated accouterments, stilted dialogue, and copious drugs and alcohol.
But hold on: this new flick by director Adam Newport-Berra eventually evens out, and finds its stride.
Premiering Thursday evening as part of the Rooftop Films Summer Series, ‘Thanksgiving’ was screened at Industry City in Sunset Park, historically a manufacturing complex on the waterfront now in rapid transition, hoping to draw creative and young professional crowds.
A torrential downpour forced the event from a beautiful rooftop view to an indoor location within the complex, but the capacious alternative confines were more than accommodating. A sidesplitting introductory performance by comedian and musician Reggie Watts (who also makes a brief cameo in the film) had the crowd’s rapt attention, while an opening short film, “Manicure” by Stephanie Ahn, was haunting and intriguing.
The main event, “Thanksgiving,” portrays Amy and Alex, smitten Brooklynites surrounded and supported by like-minded friends as they serve turkey, mashed potatoes, and playful bromides. But a return of Amy’s long-lost brother, Will, serves as the catalyst for the potential upending of their entire orientation.
The remainder of the film unfolds over the following day, where a hiking trip north of the city acts as the film’s pivot moment, with Alex and Will trading barbs with escalating tension. This is where “Thanksgiving” evens out, finds its stride, and even takes off, encountering universal questions (and doubts) about romantic love, old flames, materialism and superficial status symbols, free will and the ability to change, and philosophical ponderings about the purpose and priorities of life. Whatever trendy trappings snared the film early on quickly wash away.
Gorgeous cinematography occasionally lingers a tad too long, and moments that would have allowed more promising dialogue are usurped by cliches. But these are mistakes easy to forgive for a first-time director who shows obvious promise and can quickly cure such flaws on the next go round.
Thanksgiving. Directed by Adam Newport-Berra, Written by Adam Newport-Berra and Matthew Chastain. With Kate Lyn Sheil, Ian Paola, and Reggie Watts. 85 min.