A comedy based around the creation of a Thanksgiving dinner and that follows the adventures of a quirky family as they struggle to keep things glued together sounds like it should be the next National Lampoon's movie, but instead turns out to be something not nearly as good. Pieces of April proves that more is needed to make a movie than just a handheld digital camera.
The movie stars Katie Holmes as the slightly sexy title character, who lives in a fairly crappy apartment complex in New York City and who is attempting to make Thanksgiving dinner - including the turkey - for her family. Things go awry when her boyfriend (Derek Luke) disappears for a while and her oven fails to work; she is forced to hunt around in her building for someone willing to lend her a working unit. As she struggled to be done in time, her family struggles just to get there, as the mom (Patricia Clarkson) is a little off her rocker and reacts wildly to any kind of emotional situation - and since she is not on good terms with her daughter, that tends to happen a lot. A bit of her instability is probably due to the chemotherapy, but she had to have been weird before the cancer came about. Also apart of the family is the dad played by Oliver Platt, who seems to be trying to please everyone while keeping his mouth shut.
There are few good movies based around Thanksgiving dinner, and unfortunately Pieces of April fails to make the list. Its concept is good, if you accept the theory that simple is good. Half of the movie follows April as she tries to make dinner, and the other half watches her family as they arduously make their way to the city. After only a few minutes it becomes clear that nothing is really going to click, and that you are in store for [thankfully only] 80 minutes of lackluster storytelling.
The actors and acting is not the problem. Katie Holmes is good enough in the lead - she's a cute and believable girl that is easy to like. Of course, it would be nice to see her in more thrillers, as she seems to have the look and edge for those kind of roles - anyone see The Gift? Oliver Platt is always entertaining as the doughboy character; he works well as a dad. Interestingly enough, I probably wouldn't even mention Clarkson if not for the fact that she is nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role her. Her character is the funniest out of all in the movie, but by the time I realized that she was suffering from cancer, I was so annoyed with her quirkiness that I was not able to feel bad for her. Obviously, some people saw something deeper in her character - I just found her frustrating. If I were choosing Oscar nominees, I would have skipped right over Pieces of April without a second's hesitation.
Pieces of April does have its moments and, at only 80 minutes, is fairly easy to watch. Worse things can happen than having to sit through the movie. Nevertheless, it never really works as a feature film, mainly due to the technically poor direction. This is Peter Hedges' directorial debut, and whether his goal was to save money or to be edgy, the result is the same. The camera bounces around and never ends up in any kind of interesting angle; it looks like a movie that any high school student could make, minus the big names. The "edgy" look of digital filmmaking only works with edgy films, not family Thanksgiving drama-comedies that need all the help they can to keep the audience entertained. A more traditional approach may worked better.
Pieces of April isn't a bad movie, but it seems like the "pieces" never are assembled correctly. With a bit more glue the puzzle may have stuck together, but that glue is nowhere to be seen. As for Clarkson, she does a good job, but not one that would get my vote on the Oscar ballot.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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