Nobody ever wants to be the one to ruin a Holiday meal. If you've ever cooked anything for anyone, much less worried with the added stress of cooking to please your family, then you can relate to the nightmare scenario of botching what should be a fairly simple, just-follow-the-instructions operation. There are few things worse than the sink hole in your gut that forms when you've worked on a meal for hours only to see it fail in some spectacularly mundane way (burning things seems to be the most common goof).
Maybe you've never struggled with that; maybe you've been the one (like myself) eating a meager meal on a Holiday simply because you're alone (or even worse, at work). Whether disaster or disappointment, the movies are here for you. They always have been. And they want you to know -- You are not alone, especially during the Holidays.
7. The Ref
I don't even know what half the stuff is that Judy Davis serves in her "traditional Scandanavian Christmas feast", but I do know that her in-laws make the telling decision to stop at a restaurant before they arrive for her dinner. Here's a rundown of that menu: Roast suckling pig (not bad), fresh baked kringlors in a honey pecan dipping sauce (basically a pretzel-like pastry...that actually doesn't sound so bad either), seven-day old lutefisk (I'll pass on the poison-soaked fish, thanks), and lamb gookins (a dish so exotic there's no record of its existence on the entire internet). Everything on the table appears to be painstakingly prepared, but when you start making up food that doesn't exist -- that's where I draw the line.
While it's not quite a disaster, Kevin McCallister's homemade mac-and-cheese is more dorm room than Dickens. It's re-assuring to see a kid this resourceful, but disturbing to see one so calculating -- planning the elaborate deathtrap murders of two petty thieves before taking a break to have a cheap sit-down meal.
Oh, he's not planning a murder? Just because Harry and Marv don't die, doesn't mean he isn't trying to kill them both in spectacular fashion. And, yet, Kevin doesn't think twice about the consequences, looking positively beatific between forkfuls of Kraft and sips of milk from Mom's wine glass. He's like Jigsaw without the pesky moral compunction. It's almost surprising he doesn't set up some manner of Christmas-themed impalement for the disheveled neighborhood Santa who doles out a couple of Tic-Tacs to Kevin in lieu of an actual candy cane on Christmas Eve.
I present the opinion that Pieces of April is not an indie drama, as the marketing would have you believe, but a gripping edge-of-your-seat thriller about a girl at the end of her rope, and the raw turkey that drives her to do things beyond her realm of reason. It feeds on the palpable dread of cooking for your family to create unbearable levels of suspense. Will she get the turkey cooked in time? Why won't her creepy gay neighbor help her? If Patricia Clarkson and Oliver Platt mated would they really produce a Katie Holmes?
Maybe it is just an indie drama.
This wouldn't be a disaster if it happened today, solely because of Denny's potachos, but The Santa Clause took place in 1994 (inspiring an entire generation to not get the title's pun and begin spelling Santa Claus' name wrong), and there was no such thing as a potacho. Single dad Scott Calvin (played by Tim Allen at his most Tim Allen-y) chars a Butterball (we've learned from a lifetime of bad comedies that men can't cook), and is left with no choice but to settle for an open Denny's for his Christmas feast. If he knew about potachos he wouldn't be settling; he'd be celebrating.
These were strictly "rooty-tooty" times, before food technology allowed us to put bacon, sausage, peppers, onions, and nacho cheese all over a heaping pile of kettle-cooked potato chips. We live in the future now. Who needs turkey?
Wild dogs rip apart the Parker family turkey like it's Azaria Chamberlin, just moments before the turkey is ready to be served. Dad gets a sample (though he's warned by Mother that it may contain worms --uh, gross), but the home cooked dinner is officially canceled, and Mother wails like a child at the mess in the kitchen.
Instead, the Parkers decide on a heaping helping of 1950's Asian stereotypes for dinner. Oh, excuse me, dinnel. Because, as you know, Chinese people switch their r's and l's around. It's learry vely hiralious. Also, in a moment that marks the Parkers as whiter-than-white, they get all freaked out over a pretty tasty-looking whole duck being brought to their table because it still has the head attached. Big deal, guys. Mother is being a complete spaz about the duck, worse than her own kids, and nobody will even consider touching the thing until the restaurant manager lops its head off with a cleaver. Oh, okay, now I guess it's safe to eat. What a bunch of mán zi.
"How many sandwiches do you want?"
"How much lettuce do you want?"
"I don't know. The usual amount...Whatever the hell people do. Whatever you think."
Like Nic Cage in Leaving Las Vegas before him, Billy Bob Thornton (as the titular bad Santa, Willie) doesn't need food to exist, just hooch. Lots and lots of hooch. When young Herman Merman takes Willie into his home, Willie moves from a liquid lunch into the not-so-exciting culinary world of bologna sandwiches prepared by a functionally imbecilic ten-year old boy.
While Willie would rather down an entire bottle of Wild Turkey than sit down and carve a turkey, he's been turning down Herman's constant offer of sandwiches pretty regularly for the duration of the film, up until Christmas Eve when he finally caves and instructs Herman to make him sandwiches with the "usual amount" of lettuce. Mmmm-mmm.
This turkey is like that guy's chest in John Carpenter's The Thing, a gaping maw of inescapable horror. It's easily the most memorable (and completely inedible) Holiday dinner disaster on the list.
See for yourself...