In Pieces of April, a pierced Katie Holmes donning red-streaked raven hair is our proverbial black sheep, April Burns, anxious about having her family over for Thanksgiving dinner at her tiny New York City apartment. A stubborn April plans on cooking an entire meal herself despite her obvious lack of cooking skills. In a rage, she attempts to mash uncooked potatoes. There is an eerie silence of apprehension when April begins to prepare the meal only to discover that her oven is broken.
While April is at home trying to prepare her Thanksgiving feast, her family is on the road to reach April’s home in time for dinner. Oliver Platt is April’s father, Jim, a stunningly subdued optimist who seems to be forcing his enthusiasm for the family’s benefit. Alison Pill is literally a pill as Beth, April’s overachieving little sister. Tim (John Gallagher, Jr.), April’s younger brother, is a budding photographer who tries to help his father lighten the mood. A pessimistic Patricia Clarkson is ironically Joy, angry, mysterious mother to April.
Though, Pieces of April shares similar storytelling techniques with 21 Grams, where the jarring scene transition of 21 Grams offer confusion, Pieces of April offers cunning insight. Each scene is anything but haphazard as family secrets are uncovered for increasingly curious spectators. It is a low budget affair with flair that proves that first-rate exceptional films don’t need flashy special effects to prove their point.
As the camera flies back and forth between April’s struggles and the family’s journey to New York City, the dialogue slowly but surely helps us piece together the story behind the tension that has fractured this family. We are onlookers forced to grasp at puzzle pieces to gain access to family secrets before the imminent Thanksgiving meal. Each piece is as intricate, at times painful, funny, subtle and delicious, as any number of neuroses found at any family activity during the holidays.
As everything pieces together, April is forced to wander her building begging for oven use as she tries desperately to get her turkey cooked in time for dinner. Though her travails through her apartment complex offer most of the hilarity in the film, we quickly become privy to the knowledge that April’s anxiety to get the job done is fueled by her family’s belief that she is the family failure.
Meanwhile, Bobby (Derek Luke), April’s live-in boyfriend, is in search of a good suit to wear for his first meeting with April’s family. Like April’s experience with the oven, there are pitfalls at every turn set up to make him fail. Bobby, however, is an eternal optimist like April’s father and he faces all adversity with a smile. He wants to do his best to make sure dinner is perfect because he knows how much it means to April.
Pieces of April is surprisingly hilarious and poignant. A spiritual experience at Krispy Kreme juxtaposes a proper burial for unsuspecting road kill. The most interesting set of neighbors this side of the Lower East Side which includes Sean Hayes as creepy 5th floor Wayne, alternate between lending April a hand and holding her turkey hostage with minutes on the clock.
Pieces of April is a refreshing independent film that successfully showcases a family drama while inviting us to share in the altruistic aspects and anxiety that help construct Thanksgiving togetherness. Family drama devolves painfully but sensationally before our eyes, instigating our pity and awe as a family’s final Thanksgiving together comes to fore against all odds. Its everyman sort of family dysfunction is honest and moving as we witness a family’s journey back to each other.
The DVD gives the viewer a choice between full-screen or widescreen anamorphic formats. Yay! Besides the standard commentary by writer-director Peter Hedges, the DVD includes one in-depth featurette, “All the Pieces Together,” where the director and actors come together to reflect on the story and their roles. In addition to the hysterical trailers for Pieces of April, trailers for other MGM independent films abound.