It goes a lot deeper than that, however, because Pieces of April is About as Dramatic as it gets at times, is filled with heart (not with Sap) and can be alternately hilarious and disturbing (and in at least one case, more than a little shocking)! April Burns is the grown black sheep of the family. She was that artistic problem child with the Multi-Colored Hair and the Liberal attitudes. Give her a sex-change, and she was me (see photograph). As a Thanksgiving present to her ailing mom, the misnamed Joy (Patricia Clarkson), April plans a feast for the family in her inner-city apartment.
Naturally, like a Quixotic Gilliam experiment, everything that possibly can go wrong does go wrong. Imagine what your worst Thanksgiving nightmares might be (barring either the direction of Wes Craven or the appearance of Joe Piscopo), and April goes through it, including, but not limited to her Turkey being held hostage while half-cooked!
Aside from April's frantic and manic preparation paralleling Emeril Lagasse on Uppers, boyfriend Bobby (Antwone Fisher's Derek Luke) scrambles to appear well-dressed while being chased through the city by lonely boys with obsessed vendettas! Primarily the sub-plot of the film features a road trip undertaken by April's family featuring a senile Grandma, an overachieving brother, an overshadowed and bitchy sister, a depressed and ill mother and dear-old-Dad fighting to hold his family together.
It might not sound like a heap of smiles, but Writer/ Director Peter Hedges (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) manages to escalate this film high above the sum of its parts, and evokes some fantastic performances from all his actors.
Take April herself as a prime example! Katie Holmes has been in a few lesser known (but well chosen) films, and is primarily known for her role on the WB's Dawson's Creek! Here she plays as much against type as possible. She's dramatic, funny and emotionally viable as April, and she's proving that she can stand up with some of the best. She's also hotter than a raw Jalapeño!
I wasn't prepared for Oliver Platt's performance as April's dad Jim. Platt is one of America's traditionally goofiest actors and fits so perfectly into that niche that Jim's melancholy and serious introspection is more striking than if any other actor had tackled the role. Platt nails the dutiful and loving husband fighting for life, and fighting for the unity of his family! Bravo! April's siblings played by John Gallagher Jr. and Alison Pill (Redwall: The Movie), not to mention Grandma Alice Drummond are also steady and strong (and frequently funny).
It's Clarkson that gets the Pathos, though as the confused and conflicted early-forties Mom faced with the creeping malaise of mortality. If it weren't for the all around great performances I'd say she steals the show, and it's striking to see her range of emotions! From a pensive guarded state to the in-your-face attitude that dares her family to deal with her, Patricia Clarkson is just incredible.
A potential flaw in the eyes of some viewers might come in the slice of life nature of this film. Everything we know takes place in around twelve hours of the lives of these people, and we get no back story besides reminiscing, nor do we get any foreshadowing of the future. Hedges does this intentionally as this isn't about the before or after so much as the immediate now and the need to make a good memory, sometimes for the first time! It could certainly be warranted that more could be asked from this movie, however, that's a bit of a compliment to Hedges, I'd say. Way to keep them wanting more!
Although it's not exactly The Graduate, Pieces of April is a solid Four Star (out of five) Film! It's great fun to watch as the paths of this day braid together, and it's safe for your teenager to have some laughs with too. There is some profanity, a little violence and sex and one somewhat disturbing and profound moment. That's all part and parcel of the heavy themes that Hedges balances here... and that's the thing... that's life! Or at least a slice of it! Sometimes you laugh because it's funny, and other times you laugh to keep from crying!
But if you're laughing, babe, you're alive!
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