Thanksgiving, the anathema of dysfunctional families, is the focus of two very different film debuts: The Myth of Fingerprints, from writer-director Bart Freundlich, and The House of Yes, directed by Mark Waters (no relation to John), who adapted it from Wendy MacLeod's play.
Fingerprints is hushed and muted, its tone mirroring the less-than-communicative WASPs at its center. In the splendid isolation of their large farmhouse -- decorated in the eastern seaboard shabby chic that Ralph Lauren covets -- two parents (cranky Roy Scheider, ethereal Blythe Danner) await their grown children's visit with decidedly different outlooks.
Along with luggage and assorted partners, the two sons (analytical Michael Vartan, dewy-eyed Noah Wyle) and two daughters (perky Laurel Holloman, Julianne Moore in mega-bitch mode) bring their emotional baggage home for an airing out, with Wyle as the prodigal who must face his controlling father after a three-year absence.
The revelation of why father and son had a falling out is another quiet anticlimax in a film where restraint is the overriding principle, but a few scenes (particularly a noisy night when amore strikes the couples in this frigid household) enliven the proceedings.
Fingerprints is aided greatly by a moody score from Not Drowning, Waving, and a goofy yet charming comic performance by James LeGros as Moore's forgotten first love.
In The House of Yes, the first and only love for Jackie-O (Parker Posey) is the one she can never shake: her twin brother Marty (Josh Hamilton). In the gothic fun house of Yes, Jackie-O -- poised, whip-smart, obsessive, nuts -- eagerly awaits Marty's return to the family's suburban D.C. mansion on the 20th anniversary of JFK's assassination.
Unfortunately, Marty is bringing home his milquetoast fiancee, Lesly (a distractingly tan Tori Spelling). As hurricane winds blow outside, their mother (Genevieve Bujold) and younger brother (Freddie Prinze Jr.) begin to manipulate Lesly in an attempt to restore their family's topsy-turvy status quo.
House of Yes is arch, candy-colored deviancy which Waters delivers like a jaded Tennessee Williams. But Yes also demonstrates the downside of adapting a play: The film is stagy and stilted, and the not-so-surprising denouement is telescoped early on.
"I look at you people and I wonder how you ever fit into my world," says Bujold's befuddled mother hen, expressing the thought on more than a few minds during these cinematic examinations of the great American family holiday.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.