Thursday, February 12, 2004


Pieces of April will not make it to most movie theaters around the country. Written and directed by the talented Peter Hedges (About a Boy, What's Eating Gilbert Grape), this latest film is a strictly arthouse project that would have gone by unnoticed except for a standout performance - and now Oscar nominated - by Patricia Clarkson (Miracle, The Station Agent). A prolific actress with over 40 feature film credits, Clarkson has built a reputation in the industry, but has largely been under the broader mainstream's radar.

Honestly, I thought her performance in The Station Agent was more nuanced and deft than the one here - principally because that project had a better script than Pieces of April. I can't see her winning the statue for her regretful mother dying of breast cancer, seeking a reunion with her rebellious daughter, played flatly by Katie Holmes (Dawson's Creek), but I am glad her overall work has been acknowledged with a nom.

Not sure what to say about this film really. It is a competent, small, slice of life project about a young messed up woman (Holmes) who has invited her family to her dreadful ghetto pad for Thanksgiving dinner. "April" is living in sin with her latest boyfriend, and for some reason unsupported by the screenplay, she has left all her anti-family angst behind her and now wants to make nice with them by cooking a dinner that is absolutely beyond her skills to produce. The film's inciting incident is the breakdown of her stove which precipitates two hours of April carrying her semi-cooked turkey from apartment to apartment, to coax her fellow ramshackle apartment mates to let her use their stoves. The "story" is intercut with images of April's warring family on their roadtrip from the suburbs to the city and scenes of April's apartment building which turns out to be a United Nations depot in which everyone of color is kind and good, and the only cruel and angry person is a white male. Okay, if you have to...

Despite its flaws and almost "home movie" scale production values, Pieces of April has an almost fascinating aspect to it, kind of like seeing a carwreck on the side of the road. (I knew a tragic fellow once who used to love to read real crime stories. It became obvious really quick that his impulse was the same as summed up by Roseanne Barr when people asked her why America loved her show: "Our lives on the show are so extremely screwed up, it makes people feel better about the mess their own lives are in.") While occasionally uneven in tone, and several drafts away from excellence, Pieces of April ultimately bears a good message about the absurdity of alienation in a family. For people who like art films, this film is a shakey thumbs up. For people who like studio films, stay away.

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