Pieces Of April


Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

Joy (Patricia Clarkson) has terminal cancer. In all likelihood, this is her last Thanksgiving. Accordingly, her estranged daughter, April (Katie Holmes), the black sheep of the family, has invited the family over to the less than salubrious apartment she shares with her new boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke).

As the family - Joy, her husband and April's two younger siblings, goodie-two-shoes Beth (Alison Pill) and shutterbug Timmy (John Gallagher Jr) - drive towards New York, stopping to pick up the somewhat non compus mentis Dottie (Alice Drummond) from the nursing home and to periodically question the wisdom of the trip, April finds her oven is broken and embarks on an unusual quest through the apartment block to get the turkey cooked.

As a heartfelt tribute to his mother, writer/director Peter Hedges's film is one of those well-intentioned pieces you feel awkward about criticising. But, like a sign that pleads "please don't kick me", the temptation proves impossible to resist.

While the rough DV visuals - shaky camera, over and underlit images - and apparent direct sound certainly work to connoting a home movie/video diary documentary feel, they also make for a somewhat unpleasant and disorientating (non)experience.

More problematic, though, is the casting. Had Hedges gone with unknown actors, or non-professionals, it might have worked, but with recognisable faces one can never quite suspend disbelief enough to care about the characters. That is, no matter how well Holmes does angsty and dysfunctional, one is always aware it's her playing the role, the intertexual baggage of Dawson's Creek, etc, such that her performance can only convince to the same degree as April's tattoos and hair colour.

Neither does the crude contrast between Joy and Dottie help, with the strong, experientially-based characterisation of the former countered by the stereotypical comedy Alzheimerisms of the latter.

In other words, Pieces Of April cannot but come across as a typical example of faux indie work, the product of an aspiring filmmaker who comes across as wanting to use the personal and low budget as a route into the anonymous and big budget mainstream.

For a film, whose stock in trade should be (the ring of) emotional truth, that's a fatal flaw.

Reviewed on: 19 Feb 2004
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Black sheep of the litter has a not so happy thanksgiving after organising a family get together.
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Director: Peter Hedges

Writer: Peter Hedges

Starring: Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, Derek Luke, Alice Drummond, Sean Hayes, Alison Pill, John Gallagher Jr, Sisqo

Year: 2003

Runtime: 80 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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