Pieces of April (2003)
Directed by Peter Hedges

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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April (Katie Holmes), a young woman living in New York City with her black boyfriend, invites her suburban family to her apartment for Thanksgiving. Since the woman's mother Joy (Patricia Clarkson) is dying of cancer and none of the family has had a good relationship with April, who has been rebellious and destructive throughout her life, her father accepts her invitation largely in the hope of effecting a reconciliation. Unfortunately, Joy's harsh, belligerent behavior leads to conflict on her family's drive to the city. Meanwhile, April discovers that her oven is not working and has to run from one apartment in her building to another searching for someone who will let her use his oven to cook her turkey.

When Peter Hedges' Pieces of April began and I was presented with shaky, poorly lit images recorded with a digital camera, I was afraid that I was going to be watching one of those atrocious movies that strives to create a sense of reality with such techniques. Having readied myself to be irked by a contrived, falsely intellectual bit of nonsense, I instead found myself engaged with the film and involved in its characters' lives. In fact, while the movie may not be especially original, it is still touching and entertaining.

None of the film's characters is without flaws, and the work is the stronger for it. Unfortunately, none of them is delineated in a particularly subtle way. Actually, most are little more than caricatures. April is generally depicted sympathetically, and her faults are, for the most part, only known from the testimony of other characters. That said, the director does include one scene in which she treats a rather eccentric neighbor very shoddily, so revealing that she is still not above misusing others. Her mother, Joy, however, never really moves beyond being a nasty, malicious villain. She is given a modicum of humanity by her fatal illness, but is usually just psychotically obnoxious.

Happily, whatever its failings, Pieces of April is often affecting and sometimes truly funny. The characters may not rise above the ordinary, and the story may not be different from the tales told by countless other movies, but, somehow, the director does bring these elements together in a way that is likely to engage the viewer. April's adventures are comic, and her relationship with her family is sad.

To a large degree, the success of these elements is probably due to the fact that the film is generally well acted. Although many of the minor parts are no more than caricatures, as has been noted, and the actors are not given much chance to rise above such a level, the central characters are well realized by the performers. I was particularly impressed by Katie Holmes' work. I have to admit that I had not expected much of her, so I was pleasantly surprised when she acquitted herself quite well.

It may not be much more than a pleasant diversion, but Pieces of April is an enjoyable movie.

Review by Keith Allen

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