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Pieces of April (Peter Hedges, 2003)

   

    Since it belongs to the burgeoning, and consistently syrupy, Thanksgiving movie genre, one must go into Peter Hedgesí Pieces of April expecting a certain degree of frank sentimentality. Itís placed under a transparent film of what passes for reality in indie movies in Pieces of April, but unembarrassed emotional outbursts are certainly as present here as in such movies as Whatís Cooking? and Home for the Holidays. The unique spin of April shows us the first Thanksgiving of a girl (the titular April, played by Katie Holmes), who finds herself not going home for the holiday, because her home is now somewhere else. As expected, much of the filmís run time shows April as she desperately scrambles to prepare her familyís feast. She drops the turkey on the floor, uses a bed sheet as a tablecloth, and attempts to mash uncooked potatoes. Itís routine stuff, but Holmes is appealing, bringing a bit of bad-girl sass to a role that might otherwise be a bit tough to bear.

   

    With jump cuts, handheld camera work, generally indifferent compositions and natural lighting, Pieces of April essentially has the slapdash aesthetic of a Dogma film. As commonplace as that look is becoming, one canít really deny that the unfettered proximity to the action that it provides makes scenarios that might feel more contrived play more realistically when the actors in the moment. The acting in the film is something of a mixed bag, though, ranging from Patricia Clarksonís smartly realized portrayal of Aprilís mother to the shallowly conceived depiction of Aprilís ex-boyfriend. Clarkson has the most satisfying arc of any of the performers, demonstrating, by turns, total control, complete helplessness, and amusing callousness in the face of death. But it seems that for every moment that she or Holmes nails, thereís a supporting role as broad and useless as Sean Hayesí inexplicable turn as Aprilís oddball neighbor.

   

    Because of the lack of directorial chops, and inconsistent performances, Pieces of April comes off as a writerís movie, but itís unfortunately not that well-written. The entire thing reeks of a liberal agenda, common to such indie fare. Without much difficulty, it can be seen as a message movie in which the implication is that the squares from the suburbs need to loosen up and love the black man. Though itís never explicitly stated that her suburban family isnít aware of the fact, April is dating Bobby (Derek Luke), a black guy that the movie wastes a lot of time following, only to set up a horribly contrived climax. The pot-smoking cancer patient played by Clarkson huffs a joint and then tells her son to ďroll it tighter next timeĒ, whereas her hopelessly uncool husband, played by Oliver Platt in what seems to be a mild variation of his character from Bulworth, cites James Brown, Barry White, and ďPuffy DogĒ as proof that heís down with black music. When they inevitably are faced with her daughterís boyfriend, itís impossible to say that their negative reaction is prompted by his race, but thatís typical of the movieís desire to skirt edgy territory in the least offensive manner. Other attempts to integrate multiculturalism into Aprilís holiday, which present themselves as she interacts with the other people in her apartment, are thankfully less strained. The Daytrippers mined the conflicts that arise between city-dwelling children and their suburban parents with much better results on both the comedic and dramatic front. That being said, the sum of Aprilís obvious flaws canít undo its sincerity.

 

51 

09-30-03 

Jeremy Heilman