Revisiting "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," which is still a mumblecore movie
(This is an update of a post I did last year. If my reasoning was airtight then, it’s even more unassailable now. Just kidding. Assail away. But you’ll be wrong.)
Had they been contemporaries, Charles Schulz and the Brothers Duplass would have collabed constantly, for their aesthetic sensibilities and vision of the human experience are one and the same.
Mumblecore is defined in large part by the following central qualities:
1) The narrative structure of a mumblecore film is minimalist in nature. What “happens” in the movie is relatively insignificant, existing only to serve as a prompt for character exploration. Narrative always exists to achieve this goal, of course, but the difference with mumblecore is that very little happens. It’s a bunch of people sitting around and talking, essentially - My Dinner with Andre without the dinner.
2) The characters proactively lead this exploration themselves, engaging in introspection and mutual psychological cross-examination. Major themes involve love, the complexity of love, potential, unrealized potential, maturity, immaturity, and the true nature of friendship.
3) These issues are raised through naturalistic, often improvised dialogue that exists not as a polished and artful representation of real life conversations, but as a more literal depiction of them. Hence the mumbling - because, when compared to poetic movie dialogue, people effectively mumble.
Now, here is what happens in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving:
1) Charlie Brown and his sister Sally are at the mailbox, where no mail has arrived for Charlie, priming him for a depressive episode. “Holidays always depress me,” Charlie indeed says, without offering further explanation. Sally sidetracks this into a dour recounting of why she dislikes the holiday, explaining that it just means a pile of Thanksgiving-themed assignments at school - currently, an essay she must write about Myles Standish, the famous 17th century Pilgrim we all learned and forgot about in fifth grade. Linus arrives and notes the American exceptionalism demonstrated by a holiday dedicated solely to giving thanks. Virtually nothing has yet occurred in this movie, and we’re already down a rabbit hole of reflection.
2) Charlie is supposed to go to his grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, but Peppermint Patty calls him up and invites herself to dinner at his house. She sweetens the deal by reminding Charlie that he is drawn to her romantically, an assertion he fails to confirm. Charlie becomes nervous.
3) Patty calls back and announces that Marcie and Franklin will also be coming. Charlie begins to panic, seeing as he must now throw together an impromptu feast, despite the fact that he can only cook (he stipulates) cold cereal and toast. “I think I’m losing control of the whole world,” he says, stricken with grief.