Despite coming around the same time of year as Christmas and being structured around roughly the same tradition of gathering together with friends and family, Thanksgiving has failed to inspire the cinematic bounty that Christmas has. A quick Google search for the “best Thanksgiving movies” mostly turns up films focused on families and not so much on the special day itself. Even Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the closest thing we have to a unanimously recognized, canonical Thanksgiving movie, is less about the festivities than it is about how frazzling it can be to take a trip during the holidays. (The movie ends the moment they get home, and before they even cut the turkey.) With that in mind, it’s time for a new movie to be officially entered into the Thanksgiving movie canon. I write, of course, of Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
Since its release in 2009, Paul Blart has mostly become a pop culture curiosity, the epitome of a middling Kevin James comedy, and one that only became curioser when it got a sequel. (That sequel itself has spawned the podcast ’Til Death Do Us Blart, in which the hosts watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 every Thanksgiving to revisit the film, even though the sequel has nothing at all to do with the holiday.) James plays titular Blart, a mall security guard who loves to ride his Segway and possesses an inflated sense of self-importance. His attempts to make the leap to state trooper have repeatedly come up short due to his hypoglycemia, and he’s become an object of ridicule for the other employees of the mall—except for kiosk worker Amy (Jayma Mays). Most of the movie’s gags, meanwhile, start and stop at the question, “Hey, isn’t it funny to watch Kevin James, a man of a larger than average size, flail around?”
So, what does any of this have to do with Thanksgiving? Well, not much more than Planes, Trains and Automobiles does. Paul Blart does feature a scene of a Thanksgiving feast, but most of it technically takes place afterward, on Black Friday. Still, in a year when traveling to visit loved ones may be medically inadvisable, it might just be the least stressful, most holiday-appropriate option out there. Unlike, say, Krisha or The Oath, two movies that, while both more acclaimed and more connected to the holiday, go all-out on making spending time with family seem as traumatic as possible, Paul Blart is about as stressful as a shot of tryptophan.
And though the crucial other factor that ties the film to any particular day—the experience of going to the mall to take advantage of Black Friday deals—might be out of the question in 2020, it’s ultimately not a huge part of the Blart lore, either. Instead, while the character makes a big deal of the impending Black Friday crowds at the beginning of the film, the first thing the burglars do is scream “Everybody out!” and clear the shopping center—making the film all the more soothing for those of us who still believe in social distancing.
All of that may seem to rob Paul Blart of any relevancy to the upcoming holiday, but if anything, I’d argue that, for 2020, that makes it an even more perfect pick. We’ve been robbed of any sense of Thanksgiving normalcy, and Paul Blart is a Thanksgiving movie with the minimum required amount of material tying it to the day at all. It’s just barely a holiday movie, and this year, we’re just barely having a holiday. It can give us a way to mark the day without dwelling on all that we’re missing. On top of that, Blart’s credo, “Safety never takes a holiday,” feels, this year, downright poignant. We’re forsaking a traditional Thanksgiving in the name of protecting our friends, families, and selves. Even Blart’s habit of eating his feelings hits home. Quoth Blart, “Food fills the cracks in the heart.”
Kevin James’ suburban spin on Die Hard is just inoffensive enough to remain an option even when things go back to normal, and the fact of the matter is that it’s not as awful as its reputation makes it out to be, either. Its premise allows James to showcase his talent for physical comedy, and as Slate movie critic Dana Stevens put it more than a decade (and several more lifetimes) ago in her review, the movie is “soft-hearted” and “winningly unassuming”! It’s not so complicated as to demand anyone’s complete attention, making it ideal to watch as you catch up with relatives, make sure dinner is coming along smoothly, or put out any of the thousand fires that can flare up at a holiday gathering. Plus, it’s streaming on Netflix, making it even easier to throw on in the background. Safety may not take a holiday, but everyone’s brain deserves a break.