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Pieces of April
2003 - PG-13 - 80 Mins.
Director: Peter Hedges
Producer: John Lyons, Gary Winick, Alexis Alexanian
Written By: Peter Hedges
Starring: Katie Holmes, Oliver Platt, Patricia Clarkson, Derek Luke, Sean Hayes
Review by: David Trier
   
This is a film that’s pretty easy to dismiss. It was shot on digital for a reported $160,000, it’s only 80 minutes long and it’s another dysfunctional family Thanksgiving story. But somehow it manages to bring you in quick and keep you caring until the end.

April (Katie Holmes) and her boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke) are trying their best to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner for her estranged family. But when the oven doesn’t work in her apartment, she must rely on the help from a series of bizarre yet sometimes helpful, very New York neighbors. Meanwhile, April’s family makes the journey to New York, bickering and doubtful. Joy the mom (Patricia Clarkson) is stricken with cancer and the group knows it may be the last time she’ll ever see her daughter. But April was apparently such a difficult child the family rejected her years ago. Jim the dad (Oliver Platt) does his best to stay optimistic, but will April disappoint them one last time?

First off, bravo to an excellent cast. Holmes brings a simple sincerity to April that is essential for carrying this piece. Clarkson delivers another brilliant performance (see The Station Agent) as does the always-good Oliver Platt. Alison Pill is delightfully grating as the self-absorbed good-girl sister and John Gallagher, Jr. is likable as the less abrasive brother. Derek Luke is excellent as the loving boyfriend, while various actors make funny and believable neighbors.

This funny and touching ensemble piece would be buried in its simplicity were it not for the competent cast. But beyond that, there’s a slick flow and an even pace to this short feature. Writer/director Peter Hedges keeps the story moving and the whole experience involves great laughs and some good tears for girly-men like me by the end.

Pieces of April is held back a bit by an uninteresting subplot in which the boyfriend gets beat up, which serves only to make him look bad when he first meets the family. And because the film is already in a rush, April doesn’t seem realistically concerned for her boyfriend’s run-in with violence. It’s also a little hard to swallow just how culinarily (no, that isn’t technically a word) incompetent April is.

The film arguably bails on the climax, the actual Thanksgiving dinner, as if it realizes its story is over, so why bother showing the whole thing? It isn’t ineffective, however, and all the loose strings collected throughout the plot are tied up nicely before the end credits.

New York City is well captured in the cramped old apartment building. Great moments come from helpful strangers of all types, some a little more stereotypical than others, but all serving the script well.

It’s difficult to understand why April’s family is so bitter and resentful towards her and the film hints at the reasons but can’t seem to fully justify their hatred. It seems particularly unlikely that the apparently pleasant and rational dad would allow his daughter to be so rejected.

But Pieces of April is an utterly enjoyable and moving film. I think it sets the stage for a new movement in independent film-making where a short digital piece can certainly hold a candle to any of the bloated-budget crap that’s made us so complacent.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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