Welcome to Harvey’s Hellhole, a monthly column devoted to spotlighting the movies that were poorly marketed, mishandled, reshaped, neglected or just straight-up destroyed by Harvey Weinstein, during his reign as one of the most powerful studio chiefs in Hollywood. This month, we discuss not one, but two Thanksgiving-themed comedies that were distributed by Miramax but have failed to become beloved favorites this time of year.
There isn’t a huge market for Thanksgiving movies, is there? Sure, Thanksgiving is the time of year when family and friends get together, give thanks over turkey and cranberry sauce, etc. But, since Christmas is around the corner, and it’s kinda easier celebrating that holiday than Thanksgiving (with its highly questionable story of Pilgrims and Native Americans breaking bread), you don’t see a lot of Turkey Day movies getting greenlit.
But a few have shown up here and there. Miramax has even dropped a couple that you would call anti-Thanksgiving movies, dark-hearted holiday offerings that are proof that maybe hanging out with the fam isn’t always the best idea this time of year.
Let’s start with the movie where the twins smash.
Released in 1997, The House of Yes was the directorial debut of Mark Waters, the brother of Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters. Just like his big bro, Mark Waters used his first film to make a black comedy about unleashed, upper-crust depravity. Adapted from Wendy MacLeod’s chatterbox of a play, the equally caffeinated Yes is a bizarro tribute to the Kennedys, with indie empress Parker Posey wearing the pillbox crown as Jackie O.
A longtime admirer of Camelot-era Jacqueline Onassis, she’s a deeply unhinged gal barely keeping it together during a hurricane-fueled Thanksgiving night, circa 1983. She awaits the arrival of her twin brother/lover Marty (Josh Hamilton), who shows up to the Virginia manor with an unexpected surprise: his fiancée Lesly (Tori Spelling).
Yeah, Jackie doesn’t like this one bit. She would much rather have Marty all to herself, so they can kinkily recreate the day JFK was shot, complete with a gun filled with blanks. Lesly soon learns her normalcy is no match for Marty’s batshit clan, which also includes Freddie Prinze, Jr. as the horny little brother and Geneviève Bujold as the unbothered matriarch.
While Yes was bankrolled by Spelling’s TV-icon dad Aaron and his Spelling Entertainment company, it’s an obvious vehicle for Posey. Back then, ol’ girl was known as indie cinema’s most precious resource, popping up in films from such auteurs as Richard Linklater, Noah Baumbach and, of course, Christopher Guest. Who better to give her a star turn than the folks at Miramax? (Like so many Miramax films back then, it was acquired by the studio after it premiered at Sundance earlier that year.)
Even though Posey works her manipulative, motor-mouthed magic in this, audiences weren’t too keen on checking out a film where siblings do it during the holidays. (It’s bad enough it was released during that not-so-great incest wave of ‘97, where it seemed every film that came out that year had an incestous subplot.) Despite its $1.5 million budget, the movie ended up grossing $626,057. Critics were mixed — while Siskel & Ebert gave it two thumbs down, Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman was more forgiving, calling it “a kitsch melodrama that dares to make incest sexy.” Nevertheless, a lot of people ended up saying no to Yes.
For all its twin-banging, Yes still isn’t as creepy as what the late Gary Winick (he died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 49) hit audiences with in 2002 with Tadpole, yet another Sundance entry snapped up by Harvey and them. Shot on a $150,000 budget and recorded on that scourge of early-2000s indie cinema — the digital-video camcorder — this dry trip through the land of pretentiousness has Aaron Stanford (who played Pyro in a couple of X-Men movies) as Oscar, a 15-year-old boarding school student who comes home to New York for Thanksgiving. Even though girls his age (including a young Kate Mara) continuously have eyes for him, his heart belongs to only one woman: his stepmother Eve (Sigourney Weaver).
Since Oscar is an entitled little shit — he speaks French and reads Voltaire — he honestly thinks he has a shot wooing Eve away from his oblivious, history-professor dad (John Ritter — man, I miss dude!). But Oscar believes he screwed up his chances when, after getting drunk at the only New York bar that doesn’t card teens, he has a one-night stand with Eve’s saucy chiropractor pal Diane (Bebe Neuwirth). When the cat gets let out the bag during a tense, post-Thanksgiving dinner, Diane is less guilty about it than Oscar. “If you hadn’t met somebody in a really long time who was really excited about life, you would consider a 15-year-old,” she later tells Eve, as though teenage boys are the hot, new accessory this winter.
If it wasn’t the fact that Tadpole is co-written by a woman, one could easily assume that this is some masturbatory, male-teen fantasy, where a nerdy prig easily makes women both young and old quite moist. It’s sadly no surprise that it became a modest hit, grossing $3.2 million worldwide. It’s still an icky number, a solid reminder that sex with minors — no matter how many popular, Pornhub searches tell you otherwise — is always a bad idea.
Interestingly enough, both Waters and Winick went on to direct popular teen comedies (Waters directed the Freaky Friday remake in 2003, while Winick directed 13 Going on 30 in 2004) where their teen-girl protagonists explored their adult side. While they’re more known for those films, people like me will always remember them for making Miramax-distributed Thanksgiving films where people kept it in the family — in more ways than one.
The House of Yes is available to rent or buy. Tadpole is available to stream on Paramount+.