Alicia Witt’s tour-de-force turn as the spitfire Nina Turner is the main draw of Will Slocombe’s Cold Turkey, a fitfully amusing dysfunctional holiday comedy in the vein of Home for the Holidays.
Unlike the chattering, hyperactive clan in that 1995 Jodie Foster–directed yarn, however, the Turners work overtime to repress their increasingly unmanageable crises. Poppy (Peter Bogdanovich, giving new meaning to the word “droopy”) slurps martinis and broods in silence, hiding his womanizing, money-squandering ways. His yoga-obsessed, type A daughter Lindsay (Sonya Walger) is a closet philanderer too, and Lindsay’s half-brother, Jacob (Ashton Holmes), favored by Poppy and his prissy second wife, Deborah (Cheryl Hines), is drowning in debt.
But it’s Lindsay’s sister, Nina, the chain-smoking, foul-mouthed black sheep, who bursts into Poppy and Deborah’s frosty Thanksgiving proceedings and brings everyone’s dirty secrets to the surface.
Witt’s bee-stung lips often twitch in a delightful combination of disgust and amusement, and the actress — a piano prodigy and singer — fully employs her musical talent here: She imbues Nina with a cooing, baby Valley Girl inflection, and doesn’t throw away a single line. But she’s also a proven physical comedian, as she demonstrates in a hilarious scene wherein Nina upstages the brittle Lindsay at yoga.
As a whole, Cold Turkey is too busy and offers no fresh insight on the inner hysteria of seemingly upright WASPs. The actors work hard, but their roles are mostly one-note. It’s Witt who generates the laughs and the pathos — it’s not often you root for a character who stabs her stepmother with a fork.