Pieces Of April

on October 17, 2003 by Annlee Ellingson
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Utterly charming from its opening scene and touching to the end, “Pieces of April” is set on that most taxing of family holidays, Thanksgiving. The film opens as April Burns (Katie Holmes) and her boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke) get up early in their dilapidated New York tenement to prepare the turkey. Their inexperience is immediately apparent, as they stuff a whole onion and celery stalks into the cavity before sewing it up with string. These preparations are among the funniest moments in the film, as April attempts to mash raw potatoes and empties out her stove, heretofore used for storage, only to discover that it doesn't work. This latter dilemma forces her to seek a replacement from her wacky neighbors (Lillias White and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as the robust African-American couple that gives her a hard time for serving stuffing from a box and cranberries from a can; and Sean Hayes as the bachelor upstairs with the new stove who takes her bird hostage when she doesn't show proper gratitude).

Meanwhile, April's suburban family commences on the journey to the city. It is clear that they are estranged from their oldest child, who has a history of shoplifting, arson and drugs, as little sister Beth declares April selfish for making them travel all the way there for what surely will be a miserable experience--after all, she's the one who got an A in home ec. What is gradually revealed, however, is that the matriarch of the family, Joy (Patricia Clarkson, in a career-making performance), is dying from cancer, and this likely is the last Thanksgiving that the family ever will spend together. Given this, Dad Jim (Oliver Platt) is determined that the day will be a wonderful one. (“What if it's not?” Joy asks. “Then I'll kill her,” Jim says.) The humor is wry throughout, but particularly in regard to Joy's illness. She asks Jim to stop the car so that she can gravely ask her family, “How are each of going to handle...discarding food without letting our hostess know?”

Ultimately, despite initially being scared off by the sketchy neighborhood where April lives and her overexcited boyfriend, the Burnses do gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, the reunion captured eloquently with still photographs because no words could do justice to the moment.

Filmed on HD, “Pieces of April” chances the same consumer response as last year's Sundance favorite and fellow InDigEnt production “Tadpole,” which was received well at the fest but notoriously failed to find an audience in theatrical release, likely partly due to its washed-out look on the big screen. Starring Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Derek Luke, Allison Pill, Sean Hayes and Oliver Platt. Directed and written by Peter Hedges. Produced by John Lyons, Gary Winick and Alexis Alexanian. A United Artists release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for language, sensuality, drug content and images of nudity. Running time: 80 min

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