Pieces of April (2003) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, sensuality, drug content and images of nudity
Running Time: 81 min.

Cast: Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Derek Luke, Oliver Platt, Alison Pill, John Gallagher Jr., Sean Hayes, Alice Drummond
Director: Peter Hedges

Screenplay: Peter Hedges
Review published October 19, 2003

It's an amazing feat when you realize that after watching over 75 minutes of nothing going right, Pieces of April still manages to be a heartwarming family drama worthy of becoming a standard for those seeking a good flick to watch around Thanksgiving time.  It wasn't until halfway through the film that I realized the intent, when Katie Holmes begins awkwardly relating to a Chinese family about what Thanksgiving is all about.  Like the Pilgrims of yesteryear, it's not all about the good times and wonderful things that one should be thankful.  It's about being thankful that despite all of the hardships, trials and tribulations we experience on a daily basis, there are those things that we take for granted that help us cope and live through it all, no matter what life seems to throw at us.  It's about looking at the good, the "silver lining", even when it all seems so irreversibly bleak.

Holmes plays the April of the title, living with her boyfriend in a tenement apartment in a lower class NYC neighborhood, preparing a Thanksgiving feast for her family driving in from Pennsylvania.  The story alternates between three separate storylines, with the primary one being about April's ineptitude in getting all of her ducks in a row before the big get-together, with an especially problematic problem of their oven not working.  She finds herself banging on her neighbor's doors in hopes of finding someone who can help out a stranger in need.  The film also covers the traveling family, coping with the bitchy moods of wife and mother, Joy, who is suffering from cancer and bad mood swings, made worse by the fact that she sees April as the daughter that never did anything right.  The third piece of this story involves April's boyfriend, Bobby, and his quest to dress for success and impress the family by looking his best in a time of distress.

Screenwriter and author Peter Hedges (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, About a Boy) makes his debut as a director, shooting his modest film in 16 days on a shoestring $300,000 budget.  What's perhaps the most amazing aspect of Pieces of April is how much talent Hedges is able to bring together, with a cast that is full of easily recognizable names.  In a sense, it would seem like having all of these egos is a small-time film might work against the production, but by all appearances, everyone put in their best effort in making this film work, with what must have been a sparse crew and few takes allowed for every scene.  It seems a good script can pull in good talent, and although the film stock is grainy and the camera shaky, it gives the experience a feeling of authenticity that helps give the feeling of reality to a very honest story.

It isn't a perfect creation, as there are moments of contrivance and eccentric caricature that emerge in many of the small supporting roles that aren't really necessary, but for the most part, they don't detract from the overall enjoyment.  Watch this for the very good performances by Holmes, Luke, and Clarkson, and another winning story by Hedges.  Although a bit rough around the edges, that's also part of the charm, making Pieces of April worthwhile Thanksgiving entertainment for families with children who have already matured.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo