Reel Dad: A look at films that offer Thanksgiving lessons

“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is one of the Reel Dad’s favorite Thanksgiving flicks.

“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is one of the Reel Dad’s favorite Thanksgiving flicks.

Ridgefield Playhouse / Contributed photo

Thanksgiving is a special time to share with family and friends, even virtually, especially in such a year as this. Beyond the treats and the greetings, no matter how they are shared, this holiday can also be a time to reflect on the lessons of life. So, it’s no surprise that, over the years, Hollywood has used this holiday as a backdrop for some of our most endearing cinema lessons. This Thanksgiving, as you look for movies to share with your family and friends, in person or online, reach into the Hollywood past for a meaningful film available to rent. Thank goodness the vast Hollywood library can be ours with just a click. This week, The Reel Dad cherishes a number of Thanksgiving lessons from several special films.

The Importance of Family: “Hannah and Her Sisters”

Leave it to funny man Woody Allen to deliver a meaningful film with a Thanksgiving backdrop. This beautifully crafted look at the relationship of parents and siblings and friends is bookended by Thanksgiving celebrations to chart parallel journeys experienced by a range of unforgettable characters. At the core of the film are three sisters - one with drive, one with heart, one with confusion - trying to be good to each other yet, as members of families often do, manage to hurt each other when hurt is never intended. Through it all, however, they realize that the meaning of family is to support, unconditionally love and bring an extra helping of patience to the Thanksgiving dinner table.

The Tragedy of Missed Connections: “The Ice Storm”

Few of us who live in Connecticut can forget the shivers created by a winter season’s first storm. This brilliant film, directed by the thoughtful Ang Lee, explores the cold temperatures that can exist when families and friends permit themselves to disconnect. If “Hannah and Her Sisters” celebrates the warmth of the Thanksgiving celebration, this film shows the other side, specifically the emptiness people can experience when they feel isolated from each other and themselves. Few cinematic images are as striking as a disoriented Joan Allen bicycling through the streets of New Canaan or a searching Tobey Maguire sitting alone on a late Metro North train. You don’t have to live in this part of the world to feel the pain of these characters. But the proximity brings the message home.

The Hope of Tomorrow: “Pieces of April”

So many movies about the holidays spend so much money to accomplish so little. This beautiful small movie - made on a shoestring budget and a quick schedule - is all about various members of a family preparing for a Thanksgiving together. For a once estranged daughter, the holiday together offers an opportunity to reunite with her family. For the man in her life, the holiday offers a chance to demonstrate commitment. And for a mother facing a terminal illness, the holiday is, perhaps, one last time to sit at a holiday with the family she loves. Never crossing the line into the maudlin, or stretching the realms of realism, this lovely film simply tells a simple story and helps us all hope for better tomorrows.

The Delight of Surprise: “Miracle on 34th Street”

Thanksgiving may merely begin the action of this holiday classic - with its primary focus settling on the December holiday traditions - but few images of this holiday are as enduring as the sight of the balloons traveling Central Park West in the Thanksgiving morning parade. And this year, especially, we need to see this parade. Now, the original 1947 version is the must-see for the holiday season. Forget the remake from the 1990s.

The Joy of Persistence: “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”

For anyone who has experienced travel challenges trying to get home for the holiday, this delightful comedy from 1987 offers an ideal celebration. After all, the thought of turkey and dressing is even more irresistible when reaching it involves cancelled flights, frustrating companions, and a reliance on some plain good luck. Steve Martin has never been more fun to watch.

No matter how you celebrate, sit back and relax and enjoy your holiday. And the meaningful moments sharing movies with your family. Happy Thanksgiving.