Pieces of April

A Film Review By The Mike

Rating:RATED PG-13 for some violence, a sexual scene, and brief nudity
Starring: Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt
Directed By: Peter Hedges

Final Grade:

Movies have always been easy on Thanksgiving, and I’ve ever understood why. It’s as painful a holiday as any, especially if you’re a football fan. But, the family crisis must come at Christmas, or at least so Hollywood says. At least they did, until Pieces of April, which is a comedy that tackles Turkey Day harder than an NFL linebacker.

April (Katie Holmes) is a free-spirited rebel who has left her family behind and hit New York City, where she’s found love with Bobby (Derek Luke). But her mother is dying of cancer, and as a last ditch, April tries to throw together what she can, inviting her family to join her in the city for Thanksgiving Dinner. Hijinks ensue.

The film is split between their two stories: April’s preparations, and the family’s travel to the city. April and Bobby think they have everything in order, until she finds that her oven doesn’t seem to work and she’s left perusing her apartment building for neighbors who might help her. Meanwhile, her parents, siblings, and grandmother are embarking on a trek to visit her. They’re very protective of the mother (Patricia Clarkson), who is very bitter when remembering April.

The events in both cases end up taking on a “National Lampoon’s Vacation” feeling, but unlike those comedies, this one feels realistic in almost every scene. A lot of this is due to the camerawork, which appears the way a homemade video would in almost every scene. But more is due to the acting.

Katie Holmes has never been so enthralling, and sheds her normal “cutie” image for the rebel look well. She spends a lot of time onscreen alone, and manages most of these shots well. It’s a good step up in her career. On the other hand we have Clarkson, who plays the mother with both somber and nutty swings. She’s very deserving of the Oscar nomination she received, and I’m pulling for her to win. Luke gets a few good moments as the boyfriend, and Oliver Platt shines as the father.

First-time director/writer Peter Hedges, who also wrote the Oscar-Nominated script for About a Boy, deserves a ton of credit for bringing this film together so perfectly. What starts off looking like a gritty drama easily ends up being a delightfully witty comedy. But there’s more than comedy behind this film, there’s a genuine amount of heart and love.

Pieces of April, like most movies that do family-life justice, isn’t a film that shows the best possible scenarios. It’s a film that shows how a good family makes the best out of the worst possible scenarios. And that’s what families, and holidays like Thanksgiving, are all about.

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