Pieces of April
She's the one in every family.
Directed by: Peter Hedges
Running Time: 80 minutes
No spoilers, 'cause Mama raised me right
Pieces of April is a Thanksgiving movie to be thankful for, a little sidedish of an independent film that makes us yearn for Peter Hedges to roll up his sleeves, buy a real moviemaking camera, and pull a masterpiece out of Hollywood’s oven. Flawed and limited as it is, constrained by the digital handhold it was shot on, Pieces of April contains some fantastic writing and acting, but most importantly to actual humans who are not also movie critics, it is real, immediate, and catches the audience up in its little world for the duration of its running length.
Most years it is worthwhile, amidst cranberry sauce and turkey and mashed potatoes and the ridiculous and terrible salad-casserole-pecan-bean-extravaganza that Aunt Kathy always makes, to give thanks that there were no Thanksgiving movies that year. The expansion of the exploitation of the holiday movie genre to include the annual November turkey-slaughter would create a new rush of holiday romantic comedy movies, perhaps starring Hugh Grant and Meg Ryan, to fill the thanksgiving movie void. But as a result of being written by an emerging force in the screenwriting game, Pieces of April doesn’t succumb to sappy romantic comedy tricks. While the rookie director takes some easy routes out of certain situations, the script is fresh with hidden humor, and the obvious does not beat about audience-member’s heads, instead content to simply tap on them once or twice as though curious of their contents.
April Burns (Katie Holmes, who goes through the whole movie without twisting her mouth into a knot like she used to do when Dawson made her mad) is an indie rock chick on Manhattan’s Lower West Side, or Lower Back Side, or whichever side of New York has the run-down and dingy apartment buildings. April awakens early on Thanksgiving, goth-eyed and spiky-pierced, to cook from scratch her first Thanksgiving meal for her family, probably because her mother did not teach her, as my mother did, to prepare food for holidays in advance (true story: my mother once managed to feed 25 guests at Christmas with no power or water because she had prepared all of the food in advance and then could cook it on a wood stove). Like any good girlfriend, she shoos away her boyfriend for some freedom in the kitchen. But first there is also quite possibly the tastiest sex scene ever, and not simply because it involves Katie Holmes.
But then April’s oven doesn’t work, probably because the pilot light below the oven is not lit (but luckily the plot light certainly is! Ha ha!). Because she doesn’t know anything about pilot lights or ovens, she is forced to ask the rest of her apartment building for help. “The rest of her apartment building” is quite a melting pot indeed, and we are quickly caught up in her desperate quest for a working oven.
Meanwhile, the forces of evil are gathering for the imminent destruction of our world, and will convene on April’s apartment in but a few short hours to either wrench from her grasp the keys to the destructo-device or kill her in the trying. Not really, but that movie would have made more money than this one will.
No, the truth is much more shocking. Meanwhile, the members of her family are gathering for what they believe will be the imminent destruction of their digestive systems, and will convene on April’s apartment in but a few short hours to either wrench from her grasp a single good memory involving her and the family or kill her in the trying. They all are very typically atypical, and they can be campy at times, but they are still genuine and their interaction certainly conveys the pressure April feels.
While there are parts which I won’t reveal where the plot takes a cheap twist, there are other parts which I won’t reveal where quite un-cheap and posh things happen which I also won’t reveal. Overall, it’s more of a heartstring tearing than a gentle tug, but we aren’t taken too far from what we expect. Peter Hedges has created a sweet little Thanksgiving picture that, believe it or not, actually does manage to capture the meaning of the season. Those who can handle 80 minutes of shaky handheld camerawork and the interaction of several characters hanging onto control of their lives by a fingernail, both enough to make a gentler soul seasick, should certainly consider Pieces of April.