Pieces of April (2003)
The set-up for Pieces of April, a low-budget film starring Katie Holmes, is a pastiche of familiar independent film elements so much so that it could across as parody. Holmes plays April Burns, a beleaguered teen living on her own in a grungy New York apartment. Today is Thanksgiving and her family will be stopping by for a grand Thanksgiving meal prepared by April. Her cantankerous mother (Patricia Clarkson) is ailing from breast cancer, and when she tries to think of one good memory shes had with April, she can only conjure memories belonging to younger daughter Beth (Alison Pill). She also will be introducing her family to her new boyfriend, Bobby (Derek Luke of Antoine Fisher). April has 24 hours to cook a memorable meal for her family and it could be the last Thanksgiving they spend together.
In the world of independent film, it seems like theres a whole sub-genre of movies that revolve around chaotic Thanksgiving dinners and dysfunctional families. The holiday setting, her mothers cancer, April’s spirited attempts at autonomy in the big city, interracial dating and an apartment complex full of cute oddballs all seem like tried-and-true staples of indie film.
Pieces of April was written and directed by Peter Hedges, writer of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and co-writer of About a Boy. His pedigree would certainly state that he knows something about family drama, and Pieces of April is a nice continuation of his observational humor. Hedges has a skilled confidence in his writing. The characters feel real and we gravitate to their vulnerability and hope. We see every sincere detail of Aprils plight to make her family proud. The choice to shoot Pieces of April on digital video adds an extra element of intimacy, like were trapped inside a home video.
Holmes gives her best performance to date. April, with patches of bright orange hair and arms enclosed with bracelets, is a sweetly vibrant character. When a neighbor asks about her relationship with her mother, April describes herself as the first pancake. She’s the one you’re supposed to throw out, another neighbor explains. Holmes’ performance is like a slow simmer of frustration, optimism and determination that wins your heart. Her more dramatic moments of helplessness and disappointment are quite affecting.
The supporting cast for Pieces of April is top-notch. Clarkson gets some weighty moments as the ailing mother, like when she runs out of the car in tears because she cant afford one more bad memory with April. She gets the showy part but enlivens every moment. Oliver Platt further feeds my theory of his quest to be in every movie ever. In Pieces of April he plays the put-upon father who frets his wife could pass any moment. Pill shines as the hyperactively cheerful and overachieving Beth. Her cherubic cheeks and glowing smile leave an indelible impression, and makes me question if her face ever got sore from excessive smiling.
Pieces of April is a pleasurable little comedy thats borderline touching. It’s not much more than a small slice of family drama, but with excellent writing and strong acting, Pieces of April distinguishes itself as more than a collection of familiar staples, and as a warm and quietly charming homespun comedy with an extra helping of heart.
Nate’s Grade: B+
Posted on November 9, 2003, in 2003 Movies and tagged allison pill, cancer, comedy, derek luke, drama, katie holmes, oliver platt, oscars, patricia clarkson, peter hedges, sundance. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.