Pieces of April

Thanksgiving is a time when an entire family can come together and give thanks. It's a little harder for the Burns family, mainly because of black sheep daughter April (Katie Holmes, Abandon, Phone Booth). April has never gotten along with any member of the family. As a child, she was a misfit and all-around imp with a string of bad boyfriends. Now, she spots punk-like clothing and an attitude to match in a dingy apartment in New York. Her mother Joy (Patricia Clarkson, The Station Agent, All the Real Girls) has terminal cancer and is weaker by the moment, so April decides to invite the entire family over to her apartment where she will cook Thanksgiving dinner. The problem? April has no idea how to cook, and the rest of her family is not sure they even want to come.

Pieces of April unfolds comically along these dual storylines. It is the directorial debut for writer Peter Hedges, who, in the past has adapted About a Boy and A Map of the World. While everything borders on the ridiculous, Hedges does keep the story grounded enough, especially with constant reminders of Joy's cancer and imminent death. It's never clear why the characters are doing what they are. April is never too open about the reasons she is having her family over, especially since she still clearly doesn't like them. April's family doesn't want to go, but her father Jim (Oliver Platt, Don't Say a Word, ZigZag) think they have an opportunity to reconcile and should at least try.

April desperately tries to prepare her turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and salad. It is painful to watch her cook, since she has no idea what she is doing. Worse, her oven is broken, setting her on a quest to find a working oven amongst the people who live in her complex. Two of the people she meet are Evette (Lillias White, Interview with the Assassin, How the Grinch Stole Christmas) and her husband Eugene (Isiah Whitlock Jr., The 25th Hour, Jump Tomorrow), who are able to jump start her turkey. It's the small characters like Evette and Eugene that make Pieces of April so amusing. They are genuinely good people that do what they can to help her. They love each other and lightly bicker like two married people. Yet, in helping April they show just how much more she needs to do. Evette and Eugene, along with a Chinese family, embody the spirit of the holiday. Others, like Wayne (Sean Hayes, Cats & Dogs, Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss) have a new stove, but are in no mood to share. The only point of the Wayne character is to provide cheap laughs and frustration for April. April's boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke, Antwone Fisher, Biker Boyz) wants to help out, but has to leave early to run an important, unnamed errand.

Meanwhile, Joy, Jim and April's siblings Beth (Alison Pill, Perfect Pie, The Dinosaur Hunter) and Timmy (John Gallagher Jr.) and grandmother Dottie (Alice Drummond, The Rising Place, Joe Gould's Secret) make slowly make their way to New York. These parts of the film are much more poignant, yet Hedges is still able to find a great deal of humor. Everybody is constantly asking Joy how she is feeling, and she is getting sick of it. She just wants to be left alone. This is yet another great role for Neal, who is channeling all sorts of mixed emotions in this role. Joy is going through a lot, and wants to reconcile with her daughter before she passes on. Her body may be weak, but her will is still strong. She still has time to play pranks on her family, and is determined to undermine their efforts to turn back home. Although it may not seem like it, Pieces of April does make a nice Thanksgiving film, in its odd way. It is about the importance of family, and Hedges uses his wry sense of sometimes absurdist humor to get his point across.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 21 minutes, Rated PG-13 for language, sensualtiy, drug content, and images of nudity.

Back to Movies