Modesty is a virtue for Turkey Bowl, the tale of an annual Thanksgiving touch-football game that exploits concision to its considerable benefit. Running a scant 64 minutes, writer-director Kyle Smith’s indie offers no prologue or epilogue, setting its entire story at a local field where Jon (Jon Schmidt) organizes a yearly get-together with a group—old friends and, this time around, two strangers brought by sexy Kerry (Kerry Bishé)—whose various relationships with one another slowly materialize throughout the pigskin showdown. Both during and between snaps, Smith’s orchestration of his action has a relaxed authenticity that’s inviting, capturing not only the pleasurably antagonistic vibe of pickup football games (in which leisurely competition can turn heated on a dime, and boil over into undue antagonism), but also the means by which these matches inevitably reflect, and bring to the fore, participants’ more tense interpersonal dynamics. In this case, those involve Morgan’s (Morgan Beck) beef with Zeke (Zeke Hawkins), who’s been spending too much time with feisty girlfriend Zoe (Zoe Perry), new guy Sergio’s (Sergio Villarreal) ultra-competitive anger, which manifests itself in outbursts directed at Jon, and Bob’s (Bob Turton) energy drink-fueled serious attitude toward winning, which seems to rankle Adam (Adam Benic) for unknown reasons.
Just briefly dropping in on its subjects, who resemble stereotypes but exhibit idiosyncrasies that ring true, Turkey Bowl goes light on exposition yet teases out so many details about its characters’ feelings toward one another that it creates a compelling impression of a pre-existing shared history between them. This lends the material a naturalness that meshes with its gridiron battle, an alternately jovial and testy affair that Smith stages with pitch-perfect ramshackle sloppiness. Touchdowns and turnovers are interspersed with wisecracks and arguments, with pats on the back (and the behind) expressing the underlying love these twentysomethings feel for one another—especially Jon, who organizes the annual event so he can reconnect with the only true friends he has—and, by extension, the way the games aren’t about the nominal butterball-turkey prize as much as cathartic reunion and reconciliation. Similarly, Madden-style POVs and NFL Films-esque slow-motion set to orchestral music prove smart visualizations of the wish-fulfillment nature of such pastimes. Well acted and wise enough to not excessively linger in its atmosphere of genial camaraderie and underlying regret and nostalgia, Turkey Bowl accomplishes its small-scale goals with aplomb, which—with a final country ballad-set montage of the climactic plays—include conveying how get-togethers like these are ultimately remembered less for triumphs or failures than as a blur of yelling, strategizing, and laughter among friends.