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Overall Rating

Awesome: 30.23%
Worth A Look40.7%
Average: 25.58%
Pretty Bad: 2.33%
Total Crap: 1.16%

9 reviews, 32 user ratings

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Pieces of April
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by Erik Childress

"Bound To Eventually Become a Holiday Classic"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2003 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Dysfunctional families are a great jumping off point for comedies or dramas. Throw a holiday on top of it and you have the makings of a classic that will become an annual tradition. The leaps and bounds of such an idea can also degenerate into an over-the-top sitcom affair or a Mike Leigh call-the-suicide-club barbiturate. Writer/director Peter Hedges has successfully found the middle ground between the two to create a heartfelt comedy that will make a great companion piece to Jodie Fosterís overlooked Home for the Holidays for years to come.

Katie Holmes plays April, who has moved away from home; estranged from her family due to the grievous relationship sheís shared with her mother (Patricia Clarkson) since apparently birth. Mom is suffering through the final stages of breast cancer, so April in perhaps a last ditch effort to reconcile invites the whole family over for Thanksgiving dinner. One problem: sheís never prepared such a feast before and neither has her African-American boyfriend, Bobby (Derek Luke) whom the Burns family has never met.

The meal preparation is a set piece onto itself with a turkey stuffing that will become a classic (and probably even tried in some kitchens.) While Bobby leaves for a mysterious pre-arranged meeting on the streets, April is left to contend with an oven that breaks down at the most inconvenient of times. A mad dash is then on to keep the turkey from spoiling by going door-to-door in her rundown Manhattan tenement and meeting neighbors of all races and creeds, helpful and contemptuous, to play musical ovens before the family arrives.

Reluctance is an understatement in documenting the intercut journey of the Burnsí to join their daughter. Mom is ready to go in the car before anyone is even awake, while her contempt for the bitter memories that April has given her doesnít make for pleasant company on the long trip causing Grandma (Alice Drummond) to wonder what has become of her child. Younger daughter Beth (Alison Pill) harbors resentment that her talents and presence always come second to April while son Timmy (John Gallagher Jr.) would rather use his camera than words to communicate. Then, thereís poor Dad Jim (Oliver Platt) desperately playing the role of peacemaker to secure just one final happy memory for all of them.

That Hedges is able to weave all the strands of humor, regret, anger and love into a paltry 80 minutes is quite an achievement. Hearing the plot sounds like a dichotomy of the various gimmicks a screenwriter uses when they have nothing in the character department, but Hedges is far more qualified than that. Having worked on the adaptations for both Whatís Eating Gilbert Grape? and About a Boy, heís well aware of how characterizations are as important to the plot as are the outlined beats. Quirkiness is inherent in this story, but so are the surprises forthcoming from the audience misjudging many of these people just as they are also culpable of.

Itís always commendable to gather such a great ensemble as Hedges has here. Katie Holmes deserves as much credit as anyone, for better or worse, following in the career steps of her Dawsonís Creek co-stars in choosing riskier independent projects to help spearhead. At the same time, itís wonderful to see that cinema hasnít lost one of its best character actors (Platt) to television just yet. His presence is always a treat-and-a-half. Newcomer Derek Luke gets to shed the two scowls he had to use in Antwone Fisher and Biker Boyz, giving the film the much-needed center of love and affection that heís encapsulated himself in. I wasnít even aware this was the same guy from Antwone Fisher until the end credits. Bravo, Derek Ė I hope you become a star. Finally, it may have taken over 15 years in the biz, but is any actress more on a roll than Patricia Clarkson? Between Far from Heaven and four flicks at Sundance this year, it wonít be long before you hear her name at Oscar time.

Pieces of April has the potential (and likely will) become one of the breakout hits of the indie scene. Itís a universal tale that wouldnít have been hard to get made with a big studio. The accessibility goes beyond cult status because its not a niche piece filled with weirdness or the indie stamps of an up-and-coming filmmaker looking to get noticed. Sure, it was shot in 16 days with digital cameras, but thatís just semantics that give it the look of an independent production. Great stories know no boundaries, except those they have to fight to get noticed. This film wonít have to jump as many. Itís a terrific human comedy with a truly heartfelt ending which is a tough task to earn after only 80 minutes.

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originally posted: 01/31/03 16:41:40
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This film is available for download or online viewing at For more in the series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/28/07 Tiffany Losco I found it boring and stupid. Wasted time watching it. 1 stars
9/11/06 claudine chamaa very sensitive and touching 4 stars
7/02/06 Graham Mason Boring and not at all funny 2 stars
1/29/06 sweetgrrl1972 I saw it on TV and was surprised to find I didn't want to change the channel once. 4 stars
12/27/04 mjoc This is a truly funny, heartwarming, and wonderful holiday film! 5 stars
11/21/04 Phil M. Aficionado Pulls you along at the right pace, alternatively humoring & crushing, Terrific cast/script 5 stars
7/01/04 Mikey Crunt Katie Holmes or Katie Crunt - You decide!! Good film, sloppy ending! 4 stars
6/19/04 Denise Duspiva th e family is a little odd but the idea is sweet 4 stars
4/13/04 joannetc i loved this movie (i think it was supposed to look brownish to suit the digital format) 5 stars
4/08/04 Andrew b pieces of april :( but also :) 5 stars
3/24/04 Margie very touching. i was pleasantly surprised by katie holmes. 4 stars
3/15/04 Elena It's amazing how much you care about the whole family when the story is so simple. So good. 5 stars
3/10/04 Joan Papuzynski I thought it was outstanding and very emotional 5 stars
3/10/04 Jose felix It was simple yet, remarkable!! 5 stars
2/27/04 carla pritchett Pieces of April is a very pleasant surprise. I enjoyed it tremendously. 5 stars
2/26/04 Cindy Ames Possibly the surprise sleeper of the year -- see it! 5 stars
2/26/04 Julia Cox A not laugh-out-loud but subtly hilarious comedy. 5 stars
1/15/04 Betty White Clarkson and Platt are wonderful in this rather average comedy. 3 stars
12/29/03 y2mckay decent performances from supporting cast, a tad overwrought, but not with sappy overkill 3 stars
11/17/03 Lilian Tomaran I think the movie was wonderful! Wonderful preformance by Patty. Hope she wins an oscar 5 stars
10/23/03 Lucy great movie! It was amazing and my friend was in it -she's the little girl in the bathroom 5 stars
10/16/03 Carmelita Florine brilliant film,although Katie Holmes certainly did not do justice to April.offwithherhead!! 3 stars
10/16/03 Meme R. Outstanding 5 stars
10/02/03 Bill Cumberson Fantastic Film 5 stars
9/30/03 Clare Evans The best movie I have seen in a long time 5 stars
9/16/03 Beth Hinton I thought it was okay, at best... 2 stars
9/15/03 Rachel Pradilla Katie Holmes was great and the little girl in the bathroom really affected me 5 stars
3/10/03 "Toots" Suite Terrific movie 5 stars
3/03/03 Elizabeth Douglass It was awsome! I loved it!! 5 stars
2/05/03 Danny Howes Katie Holmes is awesome 5 stars
2/05/03 Jean-Claude Laurent Katie Holmes is awesome 5 stars
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  17-Oct-2003 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Feb-2004



Directed by
  Peter Hedges

Written by
  Peter Hedges

  Katie Holmes
  Oliver Platt
  Patricia Clarkson
  Derek Luke
  Alison Pill
  Sean Hayes

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