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A daughter is preparing Thanksgiving for her estranged family in her new apartment in the city.
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A touching and charming film that balances light humor with dramatic and emotional content, Pieces of April is a well thought out study that examines a moment in life of a dysfunctional family. The film hits the right notes without going overboard or coming off too sentimental, and the actors particularly Patricia Clarkson provide strong performances. Peter Hedges who wrote and directed the picture does a terrific job in his directorial debut.
It’s expected to be the worst Thanksgiving the Burns family has ever had, simply because the black sheep of the family, April (Holmes) is preparing the dinner in her new apartment. Her family is less than enthused. April’s reputation for being petulant, difficult, ungrateful, and with a bad history of men, has left her tainted in the eyes of her family. But April is determined to make this work.
With the encouragement of her supportive boyfriend, Bobby, (Luke) April begins a long day of preparations. But of course, her oven is out. Now she must go door to door asking neighbors to use their oven on Thanksgiving Day hours before her family arrives. Hedges presents an array of eccentric and likeable characters in which some help while other torture April on her mission.
Patricia Clarkson as the once pleasant and kind mother, Joy Burns, is now sick and embittered, and out of everyone the least excited to see her daughter. She can’t recall one happy moment with April, most involving arguments, yelling, fires in the kitchens, or annoying her siblings, April and Joy have never had a memorable moment. It’s compelling to watch dread on Joy’s face as the thought of April’s cooking forces her to have the family stop and fill up on doughnuts while giving them advice on how to properly discard April’s food.
Her cynical attitude is rooted in her depression about her current health. Everyone is constantly asking the ill fated woman how she feels, if everything is okay, if she needs anything. At first Hedges shows this in a light manner, but as the film progresses it because an annoyance to Clarkson and you share in her frustration. She is distraught, and not alone in her misery. The entire Burn clan appears unhappy, either about Joy’s health or about April’s cooking, no seems genuinely happy. Oliver Platt who plays the supportive father is the only voice of optimism in a sometimes bleak film. Also in the car is the pot smoking brother, stuck up sister, and the absent minded grandmother, all doing a fine job in their roles.
The dramatic and humorous moments are evenly balanced. While driving, Jim (Platt) looks over to his wife and thinks for a moment she’s dead. The rest of the family in the back, watch him as he begins to breakdown and pulls over. When he touches her, she wakes up. It’s a heartbreaking scene.
The premise of a dysfunctional family is old and tired. But thankfully, Hedges’s writing and style in directing adds a new fresh twist to the clichéd family drama. Katie Holmes as well is a treat, putting on a solid performance that feels honest. At one point I honestly forgot that was the girl creeping into Dawson’s window. Pieces of April is a wonderfully poignant film that deserves more recognition for its talented cast and refreshing take on the modern dysfunctional family.