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Turkey Bowl Review: Put A Little Mustard On It

By Seth Freilich | Film | March 15, 2011 |

By Seth Freilich | Film | March 15, 2011 |

Turkey Bowl is a movie that most people will unfortunately never see because it’s the kind of film that rarely screens outside of festivals — a 62-minute movie about some old friends playing an annual game of touch football, shot in real time, helmed by a guy whose IMDB page only otherwise lists a few shorts, and filled with a cast of almost entirely unknowns. It sounds like the kind of thing that would be included as a DVD extra on the disc of a later film by writer/director Kyle P. Smith. Whether it makes it out into the world that way or some other way, hopefully it just gets out there so that more folks do get a chance to see it, because Turkey Bowl is a wonderful little flick, a funny look at coping with your old friendships as your older life moves on.

Every year, Jon organizes a game of touch football for a close circle of friends. The Turkey Bowl earns its name from the prize that’s awarded to a player on the winning team — a fresh, fat, grocery store turkey — not because it’s played during Thanksgiving (here, the game takes place on a hot summer day). Everyone is in their mid-to-late twenties, which means that this close circle of friends has started to fade, not necessarily in terms of the quality of their relationship but at least in the quantity of how much they see each other. Two outsiders from the circle of friends (Sergio and Troy) have been invited to play the game this year, and it’s through their introduction that we’re able to learn about the others without the need for any clunky exposition. For example, there’s Kerry (Kerry Bishé, the one recognizable face — the newbie, final season of “Scrubs”) who invited Sergio and Troy, much to the irritation of some of the others and Bob, who gets over-the-top agro about the friendly game and apparently imbibes his Monster energy drinks via IVs.

Listing out each of the characters and their relationships with each other is beside the point though, as you learn about each of them, more or less, as the film and game progresses. For example, after we’re introduced to Zeke and Zoe, a recently-dating couple, we see the impact their relationship has had on Zeke’s friendship with Morgan. We see this mostly as the game progresses, in between plays, while the players are huddled up and sometimes during the plays themselves. And this is generally how the film unfolds, which sounds like it could be dreadfully boring or overly pretentious. Instead, Turkey Bowl is supremely funny, particularly whenever Tom DiMenna, the lackadaisical fellow who apparently just wants to get to half-time, is on screen (he’s got some of the best quotable lines in the film, and DiMenna needs to be cast in a sitcom immediately).

But beyond being funny, the movie has an underlying familiarity and resonance. Not just in terms of the football game itself (though if you’ve ever played a game of touch football on a dirt field with some friends, it probably shares many similarities with this game), but in terms of this idea of watching your post-college “grown up” friendships evolve. That evolution can go many ways, and most of us have probably seen endless variations of this, from those who drop off the face of the Earth after assimilating into whatever new life they’ve developed, to others who have grown some mix of anger, resentment and sadness over other friends leaving them behind, to those who adapt with the situations and work to keep their friendships going, learning to appreciate that great friends can pick up where they left off no matter how much time is in the gaps. Turkey Bowl doesn’t touch upon each of these, but all of this is underlying what the characters are dealing with and, even if the circumstances of this particular circle of friends don’t match your own in fact, they almost surely do in tone.

Turkey Bowl is not a perfect film, as some of the characters were not particularly well defined, and some obvious liberties were taken with the amount of realistic personal conflict that comes up while playing a game of touch football. But these little flaws really don’t matter. In fact, most of the Pajiba crew saw the flick and despite our own disparate tastes, it remains one of the festival favorites for each of us. It’s so well-paced, so comfortable and so much fun that any little flaws don’t matter. I don’t know if you’ll ever get a chance to watch Turkey Bowl, but I hope you do. In fact, I hope I get to see it again. And in the meantime, here’s hoping Kyle P. Smith continues to put out great films like this, hopefully with some studio coin behind him.

Turkey Bowl screened at South By Southwest 2011.