Pieces of April
Cast: Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, Derek Luke, Sean Hayes, Alison Pill
Writer/Director: Peter Hedges
Premiered: October 2003; available on DVD
Need some perspective on family peculiarities during the holidays (or any time)? Check out this gem, where you'll see Katie Holmes in an early acting role, along with stellar veterans Patricia Clarkson and Oliver Platt. As with the human condition (nobody gets out alive), so it is with families — nobody escapes.
Peter Hedges, author and screenwriter of What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (with Johnny Depp) and About a Boy (Hugh Grant), takes us on another trip into the gawky, uncomfortable world of adolescence, family dynamics, and fear of the grown-up future in this funny and touching film. The premise may not be new or earth-shaking, but the story is engaging and the performances are all too true-to-life.
The idea is that our title character, the oldest daughter and family black sheep, has invited her small-town parents, younger siblings, and grandmother into the Big City for a Thanksgiving meal that she will cook, even though we realize she's never attempted anything remotely like this in her life. Of course, the Universe conspires against her in the form of a non-functioning stove — after she sends her boyfriend away on his own errands and foregoes any prospect of his help. She's left to run up and down the multiple flights of stairs in her apartment building, knocking on doors and looking for an available oven in which to cook the turkey.
Along the way, we learn about the quirks and conditions of the family who's driving into mulitple unknowns this holiday, their views of the eldest daughter, the responses of the apartment building's residents to April's plight, the perceptions and decisions of these characters, and the nature of family. The story is simple but affecting.
Those of us in the media business may notice more than others that the digital format in which this film is shot can be distracting, what with its hand-held bouncing camera moves, over- and under-exposed images, and seriously extreme close-ups. But ever since The Blair Witch Project, we probably have to expect such things from the independent film community. This production group, in|dig|ent productions, which stands for "independent digital entertainment" and which made the film Tadpole, still manages to let the story shine through here — and that's what counts.