Pieces of April

Nov 5, 2003 at 12:00 am

Every holiday season, moviegoers are bound to be barraged by the usual escapist cinematic fare — played-out sap or some part of a sci-fi trilogy. With Pieces of April, the indie film industry strikes back with a dose of realism and a surprisingly fresh breath of air.

The story takes place during a single day, when a daughter prepares to host her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Throw in an estranged mother with cancer, a sibling’s battle for rank, an interracial relationship and a broken oven, and you get a real-life vision of the American family at the height of dysfunction.

Though it was filmed digitally, Pieces of April has the feel of a camcorder-shot home movie. Along with the backdrop of an appropriately shabby set design of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the film provides a raw look and an authentic feel that carries the screenplay and its characters.

Written by first-time director Peter Hedges (best known for his novel and screenplay What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) the plot centers on a twentysomething bohemian, April Burns (Katie Holmes), who lives in a rundown apartment with her boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke). Aware of her black sheep status, April wants to cook a traditional meal for her dying mother, but catastrophe is on the horizon. Meanwhile, her family, on a road trip from her suburban roots to NYC, picks up donuts knowing their wild child daughter isn’t apt to provide a satisfying meal.

Hedges’ story contemplates the emotional bond between family members, especially between mother and daughter, despite differences that can seem impossible to transcend.

Pieces of April twists Ordinary People with Terms of Endearment and comes out with a neurotic comedy. Layering emotions of sadness and humor, Hedges presents a poignant yet hilarious family portrait.

Critics are raving about the performance of Patricia Clarkson, who plays the role of sharp-tongued wit with precision. Along with Oliver Platt, Allison Pill and John Gallagher Jr., the supporting cast gives a strong ensemble performance. Stellar showings by a grungy Holmes and a caring but streetwise Luke promise to heighten the credibility of two of Hollywood’s newest hip and pretty people.

G.M. Pasfield is an editorial intern at Metro Times. Email [email protected].