April Burns (Katie Holmes, "The Gift") is a New York bohemian living with her
struggling boyfriend (Derek Luke, "Antwone Fisher"), and spending the day
preparing a Thanksgiving feast for her estranged family. Not having much luck
with her oven, April frantically searches for another apartment to cook her meal
in, leading to unexpected results. Her family, including mother, Joy (Patricia
Clarkson), and father, Jim (Oliver Platt), are packed in a car on their way to the
big city, stopping every so often to deal with Joy's cancer treatment
exhaustion, along with the family's general apprehension in seeing April again.
"Pieces of April" (IMDb listing) embodies the tiresome side of independent filmmaking. Through
its digital video camera lens, we see a collection of cartoonish characters, a
boring New York location, and a sitcomish screenplay that doesn't have a focal
point. "April" is a blessedly short (80 minutes) and simple character piece that
explores the degenerative aftermath of a dysfunctional family trying to keep
straight faces as they gather for the holiday season. The entire film is split
between April's odyssey to get her turkey cooked, and her family's long ordeal
driving up to April's New York City apartment.
April's side of the plot is where most of the success in the movie is found.
While writer/director Peter Hedges applies that oh-so-precious "only in New
York" vibe to the apartment complex microcosm, he does manage a loving portrayal
of the many denizens of the building. Comedy is provided by April's lousy attempts to cook the
dinner, working from box-top recipes and her own foggy memory of how a meal like
this is prepared. Interspersed between the chunky mashed potatoes and canned
cranberries are glimpses of the emotional damage that has been inflicted on
April, swelling the film's anticipation of what's going to happen when the two
The other half of the film is trapped in a car with the Burns clan, and it's a
pretty awkward journey. If a car ride with a dysfunctional family seems familiar
to you, that's because "April" comes uncomfortably close to Greg Mottola's "The
Daytrippers," which was essentially the same concept--without the turkey and
the stuffing. Whereas "Daytrippers" was a funny and a moving experience, "April"
is a misfire, playing around with wildly diverging dramatic tones that never
come together. There's nothing wrong with trying to merge pathos with comedy,
but Hedges can never find an equal weight in either side, resulting in a clumsy
treatment of Joy's attitude about her cancer, and a deeply tedious, sitcom-like
appearance to the Burns' travels.
The film's main theme is the sense of obligation both parties feel toward the dinner. Hedges doesn't suitably pay this off, choosing subtle
imagery over a true closure to the film. The ending is the very definition of
the phrase, "a picture is worth a thousand words." I would've liked those
thousand words placed back into the film.
Filmfodder Grade: C-