Thanksgiving is about eating and family. It’s the only holiday entirely clear cut. Christmas has presents and Easter has church, but the quality of Thanksgiving is entirely proportional to the quality of food and conversation at the table. Some people love it, others hate it, but most of us seem to think it’s a little awkward. How drunk will Uncle Frank get? Will Grandma burn the turkey? Why does Cousin Walter’s new girlfriend look like a younger version of his mom? These are the questions of highest importance at Thanksgiving. It’s no surprise people rarely remember the ones that go off without a hitch. Looking back, it’s the awful, sit there in stunned silence ones that I truly remember. The same thing could be said about movie scenes.
We rarely remember the filmed dinner scenes that went well. No one talks about the last scene in Planes Trains and Automobiles where, weary from their epic journey, Steve Martin and John Candy have a feast and a few laughs. Instead we talk about eating monkey’s brain soup in Clue or unknowingly having "balls" written on your face in Garden State. So, in honor of Thanksgiving, here’s a clip-filled look at 15 of the best ever awkward dinner scenes. Try not to let them spoil your Thanksgiving, and when you’re done thanking God your little cousins aren’t hopped up on Mountain Dew, let us know what you think by voting in the poll below or suggesting your own scenes in the comment section.
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Say a little prayer for poor Julia Roberts here as her shamelessly flamboyant and utterly fake boyfriend starts an epic singalong.
There’s a difference between dinner sucking for everyone and dinner sucking for just a couple of people. The latter is always worse if you’re part of that sad and sordid lot that’s for whatever reason not down with the overall group sentiment. Julie Roberts is not feeling the chorus. Maybe it’s because her imposter of a boyfriend is chiseling cracks into his heterosexual street cred. Maybe it’s because the man she loves is the only other person not feeling it. Could be, but I like to think it’s because the woman she despises is eating up every minute of the now piano-accompanied choir rendition.
I like to think of Jesus as an awkward middle schooler, lonely and confused by the alienation he feels from other carpenters’ sons excluding him because he gets to talk to God everyday.
With two pissed off kids hopped up on Mountain Dew, an angry, disapproving grandfather, an enabling yes man, and two horny rednecks ready to bring out The Intimidator as soon as the prayer’s finished, it’s a wonder chaos didn’t ensue sooner. What base did Rick Bobby’s wife let him get to with her father watching and Cal holding back her hair? How many major organ failures occurred from a buffet of Domino’s, KFC and Taco Bell?
Meet the Parents
No, Jinksy. No. Just because the ashes of Jack’s mother fell on the ground does not mean they’re an impromptu litterbox.
All the best awkward family dinner scenes contain some sort of big reveal, and this one from Meet The Parents is so action packed that finding out your fiancé was engaged before gets entirely glossed over by the urn fiasco. It’s like the news team fight in Anchorman. It’s not until much later that Will Ferrell and company realize Brick actually killed a guy. Pam was engaged, but that hardly seems relevant now that Greg’s past of milking kittens has come forward and the memory of Jack’s mother has been desecrated by the family cat. Wine bottles always must be opened carefully, especially when there’s future in-laws to impress.
The Nutty Professor
Ya’ll better cover your plates, grandma’s coughing up a storm again.
"Hercules, Hercules, Hercules!" The Klump family is two heart attacks and a knife fight waiting to happen. With open hostility between Cletus and the grandmother and a dinner spread straight out of a Paula Dean fantasy, the downhome greatness of it all must be seen to be believed. Obviously, it all deteriorates into farting and talk of Mike Douglaus’ hotness, but as blue collar scenes go, the Nutty Professor’s most memorable one is a clinic in hilarious awkwardness. It also offers some sage advice. "I’ve got a big ass. Your momma’s got a big ass. Asses are big in this family, and you better get used to it." Well said, Cletus. Well said.
Will someone please pass me the fucking asparagus?
I honestly don’t know which member of the Burnham family has it worse here. Carolyn, freaking out over the pressure of now being the sole breadwinner after her husband quit his job, almost has a heart attack when Lester throws the asparagus against the wall. Lester, furious over his wife’s lack of support, just wants to be allowed to behave like his wife and daughter. And Janie, poor Janie, just has to sit there and take in the disintegration of her parent’s marriage from three feet away. Frankly, by the end, I think were all tired of that Lawrence Welk shit too.
Conan the Barbarian
What is best in life?
Conan isn’t even allowed to eat in this dinner scene. In fact he’s sort of sitting in the dinner. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s not hopped up on freshly killed animal protein which enables him to think so clearly. While everyone else at the table stuffs their faces and thinks only of pleasurable pursuits, Conan is the only dude smart enough to know that it’s not what you do on your vacation that defines you, it’s what you do at your day to day job that makes you who you are. Conan’s job is victory and if you strip what he says down to its most basic elements, all he’s really saying is that there’s nothing better than winning. In the process, he makes all the slack-jawed barbarians at the table with him, dreaming of falconry and beautiful women, look like fools. Conan’s right, and in this dinner scene as in life, he’s a winner.
The Gold Rush / Benny and June
It’s ok to play with your food. Proof:
It’s not just that Chaplin is playing with his food that makes this scene so great. It’s not even just that he’s come up with the creative idea of using bread as feet. It’s all in the performance really and in his hands a couple of forks and two loaves of bread become pure art. The scene’s so great that Johnny Depp would decades later attempt an homage to it. But Depp doesn’t use it so much to create art as he does to create awkward, tension between himself and the brother of his would be girlfriend Joon. Watch Depp use those same moves to different effect in Benny and Joon:
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Revenge isn’t the only dish best served cold.
Monkeys brains were really just the tip of the iceberg in this meal, one of the most disgusting of all time. Kate Capshaw screams and whines and faints a lot in this movie, and I suppose in this instance at least it was justified. Maybe if they’d gotten Mrs. Peacock’s recipe for soup, and served them that way instead, she’d have been able to stomach it. Colonel Mustard certainly seemed to like it. The eating of brains are often a pivotal part of the best, most awkward dinner scenes. You never know how you’re supposed to act when someone sticks a fork inside someone else’s head and takes a nibble.
Watch how William H. Macy plays George more bewildered than angry, like a little kid that doesn’t understand why he’s being punished.
There’s a lot of upsetting, sad, demoralizing and awkward dinners on this list, but at least they all involved food. They got to eat. Poor George comes home to an empty house in Pleasantville, and in that moment, he realizes everything has changed. The lights are off, his wife is gone and it begins to rain. Nothing will ever be the same. In the 1950s, the nightly family dinner, perhaps more than anything else, represented stability. When it’s pulled away without a word, George is confused and it makes him start doubting everything. "Where’s my dinner?" indeed.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Guess who’s coming to dinner? A bunch of passive-aggressive Klingons, that’s who.
Before J.J. Abrams turned it into a bunch of hero poses and lens flairs, Star Trek movies used to be mostly about ideas, sometimes big ones. Nearly all of those ideas collide in one, liquor-fueled dinner scene on the Enterprise, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The event was supposed to serve as an olive branch, a peace offering to former Klingon enemies. Instead, before it’s over the Klingons have taken credit for Shakespeare and James T. Kirk has compared them to Hitler. The dialogue is brilliant and it’s made even more so by an often underrated William Shatner at the peak of his powers, and an eye-patch wearing Christopher Plummer as a Klingon general railing against the arrogance and bigotry of his opposite number.
In the end they’ll complain about the way Klingons smell and blame the whole thing on the Romulan Ale, which incidentally, is no longer to be served at diplomatic functions. But there’s more going on here than a few liquored up octogenarians. In just a few moments around a dinner table the true feelings of nearly everyone involved are revealed and no one, not even the good guys, comes out as squeaky clean as they seem to be.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
In which Ruprecht kills dinner with a triton.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is not Steve Martin’s best movie. For those keeping score, that best movie is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Watch it again and get back to me. But Scoundrels does contain his best dinner scene, in which he doesn’t so much take part in dinner as actively seek to destroy it. If this movie were made today he’d probably end up taking a dump in the desert or something far less interesting and less contained, but Martin does it by playing a convincing idiot, by eating with a cork on his fork, by politely asking to go to the bathroom, and then actually going.
You try keeping it together during a dinner with Christopher Walken while his daughter gives you a handjob underneath the table.
With a creepy and sad son that refuses to come out and a grandmother with a slanderous hatred for Elenore Roosevelt, Christopher Walken has a lot of concerns at the dinner table, but so help him God if he catches his "virgin" daughter and her roving hands. Things may seem bleak for Vince Vaughn, but at least he’s getting a handjob. Poor Owen Wilson’s left to carry the bullshit load as Walken and the villainous Sack pepper him with questions about the duo’s supposed wool company Holy Shirts.
I am a god. I am not the God. I think.
Groundhog Day builds and builds to a big reveal you know is coming. At some point, Phil will admit to the woman he loves that he’s destined to spend his days surrounded by a groundhog. You know she’ll never believe him. She doesn’t, at least not at first, but as he scurries around the dinner imparting trinkets of wisdom and predicting about to happen events, she opens herself up to the idea that maybe he could be a god. It’s like watching someone’s entire belief system crumble before your eyes. In a matter of minutes, she becomes a believer, which is great for her, but horrible for everyone else in the diner. Bill Murray just outed some poor gay kid, loudly. He just told a woman’s fiancé that she was having second thoughts. He just inferred that he had sex with a random woman in the dinner. Things may restart at 6 A.M., but these poor sons of bitches have to live out the rest of the day. Thanks, Phil.
One minute from now Ed Begley Jr is going to eat food, and he’s gonna go in the other room to check his email because he’s done with this.
Meeting your girlfriend’s family for the first time is always a dicey and scary proposition, but forgetting such a meeting is supposed to occur and then showing up to inform her family a savage gang of police officer murderers may be en route gives the whole dinner a tinge of horrifying awkwardness. Accusations of smoking the reefer also don’t help. Poor Angie just wants her parents to like Dale, but it becomes hard to defend the man you love after he shows up late, smelling like shit with fake excuses about bird watching. Maybe it is best if her dad brings out the shotgun.
Daylight come and me wan' go home.
Day, me say day, me say day, me say day.
Me say day, me say day-ay-ay-o.
Daylight come and me wan' go home.
Lip-syncing is almost never appropriate dinner party behavior, but in Beetlejuice none of the participants really have any say over whether or not they participate in it. In the process this movie became almost singlehandedly responsible for the fact that this song is still frequently played at sporting events, even though it’s been played out for at least a decade. The really hilarious thing here is that none of the humans turned dancing Beetlejuice puppets ever seems so much terrified by what’s being done to them as they are surprised and ashamed. It’s as if they suspect that maybe this song has been in them all along, and they knew it was going to get out eventually, only they didn’t quite expect it to happen at this particular dinner party, on this particular night, in a house that may be haunted. Ok it’s definitely haunted.