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Pieces of April
Who doesnt have a
story about a wacky family holiday event? Not many people, and thats why Pieces
of April, a classically indie movie about a young woman who invites her suburban
family to her Lower East Side apartment for Thanksgiving, works so well. Its all
about the tenuous yet binding connections we have with our families, and how we continue
to strive to understand our parents and siblings and hope for understanding from them
even though we often fail, even though our actions dont necessarily
communicate those feelings.
Pieces of April also is about finding new families in
unexpected places. Katie Holmes, best known as the beautiful, whiny Joey on
Creek, plays April, the girl who is hosting her first Thanksgiving meal. Even
though theyre clearly novices (she tries to mash uncooked potato cubes), April and
her devoted boyfriend Bobby (the affable Derek Luke, who played Antwone Fisher), get off to a good start,
maneuvering their way around the mysterious carcass.
But when Bobby goes out to run some errands and meet the mysterious
Tyrone, April is on her own with the motley crew of neighbors in her grungy apartment
building. Shes forced to call them into action when her oven goes on the fritz just
as shes popping the freshly stuffed bird inside. Knocking on doors, April first gets
an assist from an African-American couple (the convivial Lillias White and Isiah Whitlock
Jr.) who offer a few cooking tips and do cook the turkey for a little while, until they
have to replace it with their own.
A righteous vegan cant possibly help finish the job, nor do a
couple of folks who simply close their doors on her. A neurotic fellow (Sean Hayes from Will
& Grace) with a gorgeous new oven and a pampered cat doesnt come
through, either. But a helpful Chinese family with minimal English seems pleased to offer
up their oven, and they get a perplexing American history lesson about the original
Thanksgiving from April as a funny sideline.
Meanwhile, in a slightly less convincing, more obtuse, story line, the
members of Aprils immediate family are having their own odd day as they begin to
make their drive to Manhattan. Aprils mom (Patricia Clarkson) is quietly dying of
cancer. Before they leave, April's dad (Oliver Platt) finds mom in the car in the garage,
with the engine not quite running. Aprils Alzheimers-stricken grandmother
(Alice Drummond) officially doesnt recognize anybody, her snippy sister (Alison
Pill) has no faith in April, and her sensitive brother (John Gallagher Jr.) tries to make
sense of the unsettling circumstances by taking photographs.
At no point do any of them acknowledge their situations nor do
they wonder about how April is doing in her home and with the dinner. Writer Peter Hedges
Eating Gilbert Grape?, About
a Boy) makes his directorial debut here and admirably tries subtlety in drawing
the familys characters and echoing the reality that many families dont
communicate about even the most basic issues. However, Hedges goes a little too far.
Though we understand why they might be in denial, its difficult to understand that
they wouldnt simply chat about April on their way to visit her. A lot is going on
with Aprils family, and we dont quite get it.
Yet in the end, Hedges does pull off an interesting feat in Pieces
of April. Despite the fact that some of the characters are lightly drawn and others
border on ethnic stereotypes the black couple whipping up soul food, the black
boyfriend running through city streets on the way to meet some seemingly sinister
associate somehow, they magically come together organically by the time everyone
sits down to eat together. Were left feeling those quirky, confused, often
unbearably loaded feelings we often get around our families, and the power of the most
important one: unconditional love.
- Leslie Katz