Pieces of April: A Tragic Comedy of Thanksgiving by Peter Hedges
An Honest Look at Pain and Love
Only a great comedy can help us face the painful truths of life. If you are ready to laugh as you are exposed to the rejection, hurt, and anger that come up in family life, then see Pieces of April by Peter Hedges. As he points out, when we see how painful life is, we see how triumphant even a small moment of love can be.
Katie Holmes Plays April Burns
Pieces of April: A Spoiler-Free Plot Summary
Pieces of April occurs all in one day - a day that is supposed to be a celebration, a day that is often very challenging - Thanksgiving. The drama is in three journeys. If all three succeed, then this Thanksgiving will be a lasting and treasured memory, and a healing of a family broken apart when the eldest daughter left home and became estranged in a very painful way. If even one of the journeys fails, then this last chance to heal old family wounds will be lost forever.
April, living with her boyfriend Bobby, faces the challenge of making a Thanksgiving dinner for her family. Clearly, she and Bobby have never cooked before. And things get worse when she takes her shoes out of the oven and sets it to pre-heat - only to discover that it doesn't work. How many neighbors must she meet before she can get her turkey cooked? And what will she learn along the way?
Bobby can't help April cook because he must go on a mysterious errand to make the day succeed. And his own errand turns dangerous at the last moment.
April's family - her mother and father, and her younger brother and sister, need to make a road trip down into the city to see April for Thanksgiving dinner. They must pick up an aging grandmother along the way. Only the daily tragedy and trauma of genuine family life could make such a simple trip so difficult, so painful, and so hilarious.
Creating Happy Memories
Can we get past our bad memories to make a good memory?
If this question matters in your life, see Pieces of April.
If you've seen Pieces of April, rate it here!
Phenomenal Directing, Cinemetography, and Acting
"A Work of Imagination, Seasoned by Life"
This is how Peter Hedges, writer and director of Pieces of April, describes the movie. He wrote it as a tribute to his mother while she was dying, and that plays into the feeling of the whole movie. That passion, plus Peter Hedges insightful understanding of the pain and anger of everyday family life, and the love that lies hidden underneath the constant sniping that goes on, gives the movie it's drama. Will these ordinary people overcome grief, fear, and pain to make an extraordinary memory?
A Comedy for Cooks
My wife and I both like to cook. We were laughing so hard at the turkey stuffed with store-bought dressing, a whole onion, and whole stalks of celery and the sight of angry, red-headed April trying to mash raw potatoes (Don't you cook those first?) that we were able to bear the painful truth of her anger and watch her flower.
April Burns may never grow up to be much of a cook, but she becomes a fine daughter and sister, and a wonderful woman.
The Faces That Make the MovieClick thumbnail to view full-size
Play With the Names
Is April's mother really Joy? Is her grandmother really Dottie? And, at the end of the day, is it April who Burns the turkey? This may be April's Thanksgiving, but Thanksgiving isn't in April, and, in this movie, even the names are part of the surprise.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Pieces of April is not a moving for young kids - it deals with very serious life issues in a profound and funny way. Yet it can be a great conversation-starter with your teens on topics like how to keep getting along as the kids get older and move away from home, and also on serious issues of life and family conflict.
Up Close and Personal
Exceptional cinematography, often with a hand-held camera, captures intense emotions and dialog. Much of the movie takes place in tiny apartments and over-crowded kitchens. I've lived in New York, and the film does an excellent job of capturing the feeling of a life cramped into these tiny, grungy spaces. The film's deep reds and dark city landscape, car and bathroom interiors punctuated by a Disney-esque view of a suburban turnpike evoke the characters' darker feelings and fears.
A Phenomenal Cast
Peter Hedges did a phenomenal job casting for Pieces of April. Let's start with the smaller parts because, together, they do not detract - in fact, they create the missing pieces that April must bring together to become whole. Derek Luke plays a black city kid - gone straight, we hope - in love with April as they both get their acts together with humor, teasing, and a bit of sex. Pieces of April was his second movie, and, quite deservedly, he's moved on in one hit after another every since.
Alison Pill took the flat role of the un-loved brat of a younger sister and made it into a full part, enriching the depth of both April and her mother, played by Patricia Clark. Clark creates a masterful, dark portrait of a mother and a woman who has suffered through more than anyone should have to bear, and who takes it out on everyone. Yet, beneath the pain she feels and causes is a heart that might just break through in time for a surprising Spring, if only she can reach April and find the real meaning of Thanksgiving.
Seasoned actor Oliver Platt plays April's father, a man caught in the middle. He's the only member of the suburban family who even talks to April, or has any hope for a good Thanksgiving with her. He is, paradoxically, a chubby suburban man on a mission to save his daughter and his wife. John Gallagher, Jr., plays the challenging role of the kid brother with the camera. (Is that a stand-in for the director/writer in a lot of movies? It went that way in Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding, too.) He does it well, too, holding his family's pain, doing what he can, and bringing unexpected moments of lightness and joy. It's no surprise that he went on to win a a Tony Award in 2007 for his portrayal of Moritz in "Spring Awakening."
The role of April took Katie Holmes out of televisionland and Dawson's Creek into the world of Hollywood movies. And an actress who gets top ratings for cuteness and beauty plays a normal, somewhat homely, angry young woman without a trace of glamor, and does it very well, indeed. In dialog with everyone from a disturbed dog-owner to a happy, snippy black couple to a Chinese family who can't understand a word she says, and also hauling a turkey up and down the stairs of a grimy New York walk-up and chopping vegetables with murder in her heart, she reveals the inner life of a woman who is just discovering what she can become - if only she and the turkey can survive the day!
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The Final Message
"Love is not a feeling, it's an ability." Derek Luke, the actor who plays April's boyfriend Bobbie.
The Meaning of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is, ultimately, about surviving against overwhelming odds and discovering that we need one another. After a crisis - such as the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 or the fall of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 - people are kind-hearted for a few months before we return to our daily grind - and grinding one another down. The Pilgrims survived such a crisis with the help of the Native Americans and gave thanks, and we remember that in the US each year at the end of November.
The drama of Pieces of April lies in the question of whether the family will cut through the pain and fear into which their lives have descended and rise up to create a moment to be thankful for. The humor is in the absurdity surrounding the very real dark feelings that, shown in this family, reveal truths about every family. And the joy is in the victory of the human heart transcending the pain of the past.
See Pieces of April this November. And keep an eye on Peter Hedges. I was a little unsure of his latest work, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, but now I'm going to go see it for sure, and catch up with some of his other masterpieces, like Dan in Real Life, as well.