PIECES OF APRIL
April Burns (Katie Holmes), the black sheep of the family, has left home and now lives in an apartment in the Lower East Side with her new boyfriend, Bobby (Derek Luke). As a gesture of goodwill, although she doesn’t know the first thing about cooking, April has invited her family for Thanksgiving, but discovers at the crucial moment that her oven is broken. While she is knocking on her neighbours’ doors, looking for an oven in which to cook the turkey, her placid father Jim (Oliver Platt), terminally ill mother Joy (Patricia Clarkson), irritatingly perfect sister Beth (Alison Pill), brother Timmy (John Gallagher Jr) and Grandma Dottie (Alice Drummond) are recounting April’s failures in the car.
Review by Louise Keller:
A quirky and sometimes heartfelt story about family, Pieces of April explores the issues that keep us apart, and unite us. Writer Peter Hedges (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, About A Boy) makes his directing debut with this story that takes loose inspiration from his own personal experiences when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. The hand-held camera accentuates the sense of immediacy and chaos of both story strands, as April struggles with her inadequacies in the kitchen while her family makes its way for thanksgiving dinner.
Hedges’ notion of giving April an oven that fails to work at such a critical time is a terrific catalyst, and for me April’s journey is the most successful one. Katie Holmes is a versatile actress who can really make an impact, and here she is most endearing, as she goes all out to redeem herself to her family, who has given up on her.
It’s clear that behind all the good intentions in the world, April has never discovered (or even tried to discover) the joys of cooking. Some of the funniest scenes are at the beginning, when April awkwardly washes, stuffs and stuffs up the turkey – and that’s even before she discovers the oven doesn’t work. When you see someone trying to mash raw potatoes, you know that there’s trouble in store. Knocking on all the neighbours’ doors declaring she has a problem, she encounters a sympathetic Afro American couple who lend her their oven for a couple of hours, until they have to cook their own dinner. That’s where Wayne with the new oven (and the cute pug under his arm) comes in, and this is played strictly for laughs.
Patricia Clarkson is memorable as the ailing, but feisty mother Joy, and it’s here that the script goes a little awry. Hedges’ attempts at humour in the face of adversity, fall flat, as Joy’s flippant dialogue grates each time Oliver Platt’s patient father Jim stops the car while she throws up. It might be a funny line, but there is little relation to reality when Joy suggests that the beginning of her poor relationship with April began when ‘she bit my nipples when I was breastfeeding.’ Alice Drummond’s Alzheimer-ridden grandma is also written for laughs, but there’s plenty of reality behind the characters of April’s sister Beth (Alison Pill, outstanding). Derek Luke (from Antwone Fisher) is likeable as April’s caring boyfriend, but is a little wasted, when a red-herring of a storyline takes us in a direction that doesn’t really go anywhere.
The story’s resolution is somewhat simplified, but makes for a tidy ending, and I like the use of still images at the crucial moments when the family finally unite. Pieces of April has its heart in the right place, and while it may not always be entirely successful, marks a promising debut for a talented filmmaker.
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PIECES OF APRIL (M)
CAST: Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Derek Luke, Oliver Platt, Alison Pill, Alice Drummond, John Gallagher Jr
PRODUCER: Alexis Alexanian, John S. Lyons, Gary Winick
DIRECTOR: Peter Hedges
SCRIPT: Peter Hedges
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tami Reiker
EDITOR: Mark Livolsi
MUSIC: Stephin Merritt
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Butler
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 4, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: MGM
VIDEO RELEASE: March 16, 2005