Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Derek Luke, Alison Pill, John Gallagher Jr
Director: Peter Hedges
PIECES OF APRIL is one of those low-budget American films that tells a very simple story in human and affecting terms and thus proves to be an unexpected delight from start to finish. Shorn of the glossy protocol expected from A-list star vehicles, and also managing to avoid the arty or mannered pretensions of some of its indie cousins, PIECES OF APRIL invests its aspirations in believable characters and an uncomplicated plot.
April (Katie Holmes) is the estranged daughter of Joy (Patricia Clarkson) and Jim (Oliver Platt). A rebellious grunge-lite chick, she is pierced, tattooed, and living in an area of Manhattan which real estate agents would cagily describe as ‘characterful’. Having never enjoyed a productive relationship with her family, April decides to initiate a reconciliation after learning that her mother has terminal cancer. So she invites her parents, her more socially acceptable brother and sister, and her slightly dotty grandmother to Thanksgiving dinner – a meal that she ambitiously intends to cook herself. However the preparation of said meal is strewn with problems and April is forced to enlist the assistance of her decidedly eclectic collection of neighbours in order to ensure that turkey, cranberry, et al will be ready in time. While April struggles with a stubborn oven, her boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke) goes in search of an outfit to impress her parents but is waylaid by her jealous ex (a character who is surely inspired by Ali G). Her family, meanwhile, continue to vacillate over the wisdom of accepting her invitation throughout their car journey to Manhattan, and their attendance remains in doubt for the duration of their trip.
I’ve never been a fan of Katie Holmes but she is very engaging in the title role, and she is ably supported by a great cast of character actors (a fact which is endorsed by Clarkson’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for this role). PIECES OF APRIL is a consistently good-natured enterprise with a predominantly optimistic air, and as a result I was concerned about the possible intrusion of an overly sentimental ending; however these concerns are mollified by the timely use of photographic stills to construct the film’s coda. Thoroughly enjoyable and wholeheartedly recommended.