Written and directed by Peter Hedges
Produced by Gary Winick and Alexis Alexanian
Starring Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt,
Derek Luke, John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill, Alice Drummond and
Opening at the Broadway
“Pieces of April”
shows how a little heart and intelligence can take a film a long
way. Katie Holmes’ performance as a plucky young woman and
the ensemble appearing as her estranged family are an engaging presence
in this Thanksgiving film about family. It makes it easy to forgive
some of the film’s flaws and enjoy the story of different
people trying to come together for a holiday that, today, is all
April (Holmes) is far from her family’s ideal daughter. Switching
from an ideal daughter to a rebellious youth, she moved away from
her family’s suburban home to New York City. She apparently
was in some trouble, but is now back on track, albeit with a punk
look. April is hoping to set things right, especially with her difficult
mother (Patricia Clarkson), who is dying of cancer.
The film cuts between April’s ill-fated turkey-baking attempts,
her family’s car trip from their suburban home to April’s
city apartment and an unnecessary subplot about April’s boyfriend’s
(Derek Luke) attempts to get a nice suit for the dinner.
Oliver Platt plays April’s father Jim, who is eager to reunite
his wife and daughter. He takes it all very seriously, knowing that
his sick wife doesn’t have much time left. But she and her
children don’t want to go. April’s goody-goody sister
Beth (Alison Pill) feels threatened that the formerly model daughter
April might regain favor. Timmy (John Gallagher Jr.) is a pothead
and has been hooking his mom up to help relieve the pain.
Clarkson portrays the mother as she channels her illness into stubbornness
and humor. At one point, she makes Jim stop the car, acting like
she’s going to give a speech about when she dies, but instead
turns it into a joke about April’s cooking.
The moment is very amusing, and it’s humor like this that
keeps the film from wallowing in misery. But at the same time, it
reflects the sad undertones of the characters.
Alice Drummond also provides comic relief as Grandma Dottie, who
says the kinds of things senile people in movies say to create laughs
and occasional moments of truth.
Writer/director Peter Hedges, who wrote the screenplay of last year’s
“About a Boy” and adapted his own novel for “What’s
Eating Gilbert Grape?” (1993), makes an uneven but promising
directorial debut. “Pieces of April” shows a lot of
sly observations, but suffers from its low budget. At 81 minutes,
the film seems as if Hedges couldn’t cut material that didn’t
work and still keep the film at standard feature length.
The story line involving April’s boyfriend is a bit offensive
and reduces to jerking around the audience for no reason, making
us think that he isn’t a nice guy.
The film also suffers in look from its digital photography, but
not as badly as films like “Tadpole,” by this film’s
producer Gary Winick, who seems to believe that digital just magically
looks fine for all aesthetics. It’s clear that efforts were
made to light scenes and make them look good, which is more than
can be said for some sloppy digital films (and some good ones use
the look to their advantage), but the scant $200,000 budget shows
But with these limitations comes a promising writer. With more resources,
Hedges’ next film could be great.