Pieces of April
January 25, 2002
Starring: : Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, Derek Luke, Sean Hayes, Alison Pill, John Gallagher Jr., Alice Drummond, Lillias White, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Sisqó, Armando Riesco, Vitali Baganov, Adrian Martinez, Susan Bruce, ,
There are countless movies that take place during Christmas but very few seem to occur during Thanksgiving—Home for the Holidays (1995) and The Ice Storm (1997) being the obvious exceptions. Along comes Pieces of April (2003), a heartfelt, often funny, take on the Thanksgiving season.
April (Holmes) and Bobby (Luke) live together in a cramped, dingy apartment in New York City. This year, April decides to host Thanksgiving dinner for her family. Things get off to a rocky start when her oven stops working. She canvasses the neighbours in her building for a stove to use. She meets a helpful couple and an eccentric dog owner (played by an uncharacteristically restrained Sean Hayes who seems to be channeling Crispin Glover). Meanwhile, her family gets ready to make the trip to April’s. The mother (Clarkson) sits patiently in the car in the garage before anyone else is ready. The father (Platt) seems oblivious to his wife’s odd behaviour and their two kids hate each other. This family is a little dysfunctional to say the least—they can barely order doughnuts from a drive-thru without getting into an argument.
Writer-director Peter Hedges shows how messed up April and her family are through a series of vignettes. April is clearly an awful cook—she doesn’t even know how to peel potatoes and tries to mash them while they’re still raw. Her family takes time out to bury and give an impromptu funeral to a squirrel they accidentally kill with the car. And yet these interludes also show that despite all of this, April and her family has their hearts in the right place.
Pieces of April marks one of Katie Holmes’ first forays into film since the end of her successful television show, Dawson’s Creek. During the show’s run, she demonstrated an aptitude for appearing in slightly off-centre projects—Wonder Boys (2000) and The Singing Detective (2003). She continues that trend with Pieces of April, a film that definitely has an off-kilter vibe to it. It oscillates between drama and comedy seamlessly and Holmes handles the shifts in tone flawlessly. She does more than alter her physical appearance (very punk rock), she is able to show many sides to her character. April is more than a mixed up adult—she wants to atone for years of being a holy terror to her family and prove that she is responsible and that she can make it on her own.
The rest of the cast is excellent—in particular, reliable character actors Oliver Platt and Patricia Clarkson as emotionally dysfunctional parents. They suggest an entire history between their characters—one that is implied through looks and the things left unsaid.
“All the Pieces Together” is a featurette on the origins of Pieces of April. The film was based partly on Peter Hedges’ mother who died from cancer and from a story he had heard about a young couple who spent their first Thanksgiving in New York City asking their neighbours to use their ovens. This was obviously a personal project for Hedges, one that he had to do.
Hedges, with his quiet voice, contributes a very personal and intimate audio commentary. He tried to get the film made three times with Holmes attached early on. She was dedicated to the role and stayed with it over its various incarnations. This is a solid track that fans of this movie will want to check out.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer for the movie.
The title of the movie is an apt one—Pieces of April is about a family in pieces and April tries to put things back together through a Thanksgiving dinner. This is a character-driven film that works because they are easily relatable to almost anyone. Hedges film suggests that is never too late to make peace with your family and does it in a way that does not seem forced or over sentimentalized.