Pieces of April (2003)

pieces-of-april_lThis is not your conventional holiday film. It doesn’t exploit emotions for the sake of drawing tears from the audience, nor does it shove the whole holiday theme down our throats, this is an independent film with a holiday theme that tends to focus more on the actual character within the general theme of the holidays. What’s shown is an array of colorful and somewhat eccentric character dealt into an engrossing story of family and values. If you’re sick and tired of the usual holiday fare, check this out. It’s a great story about family and holidays. “Pieces of April” we learn is symbolic of the main character April’s attempts at making amends with her family. It’s alluded that she was a troubled girl so, not only does the story become a quest for April to finish her meal, but it becomes a quest to prove to her family that she’s reformed.

Giving a good meal is her way of proving she’s no longer a bad person, and that’s proving to be really difficult when her stove breaks down. If this description sounds too elaborate or melodramatic, don’t worry, this is a wry simple dramedy about family and about a girls dealings with her eccentric neighbors. And boy does she have plenty. But the real treat here is the family headed by two great character actors Oliver Platt and Patricia Clarkson. One major drawing point for me to this film was Clarkson who is just talented and goes into every role and makes it her own. This lady owns the screen whenever she’s on it, and she works here too. After recently seeing the excellent “The Station Agent”, there was nothing else I needed to prove to me that this woman is amazing on-screen, and what’s more is that she’s very funny here. Clarkson is hilarious because she’s a cancer sufferer who doesn’t want to be pitied, but everyone around her can’t help but pity her.

However it doesn’t stop her character from having fun with her sickness using it to basically torture her family and make them suffer with her with comedic results. But on the other side there are the family members including the grandmother who doesn’t remember everyone, played with a lot of talent by Alice Drummond, there are the two bickering children of the family played by the adorable Alison Pill, and the funny John Gallagher Jr. who are played with great effect. One is an aspiring singer and really tries to support her mom through her sick spells while the brother played by Gallagher takes record of things with his camera. There are some truly good sequences with them including the family picture near a Christmas decoration, and Pill’s character singing at the request of her father. The family is so funny and eccentric. Though the characters are basically ones we’ve seen before, they’re still very funny because of the star power of people like Clarkson and Platt to perfect the roles with their talents for quirky dialogue and joke delivery that is always well-timed.

Platt takes on the role of Jim, the father whose basically trying to keep things together and cheer up his wife yet just ends up getting on her nerves a lot, but Platt plays for laughs and it works because he’s at his best here and made me laugh out loud more than once. Meanwhile we focus on April along with the family as she is forced to look for a stove to cook her turkey on and just can’t catch a break despite her struggling. It’s hard to believe this character would have ever been anything but likable because Holmes gives her a certain kind of innocence and humility that makes her a great character. Holmes plays her well and is fun to watch here. April is a troubled character with a basically troubled past, and through this dinner she’s attempting to seek retribution from her family, as I mentioned above. Through perfecting this dinner, she’s hoping to also seek forgiveness and prove herself to her family. Along her journey she encounters a lot of quirky people that make April’s mission more entertaining.

And though slightly under used, Sean Hayes is hilarious as the upstairs neighbor. Along with the comedy there are also many sad moments to add to the bitter-sweetness of the film and director Hedges never shies away from, including Platt’s character who is given a good scare when his wife is asleep which you’ll have to see for yourself. The really gripping moments which are simple will ultimately manage to leave you with a lump in your throat. Hedges gives brisk refreshing direction. Instead of creating a generally sappy holiday dramedy, he manages to concoct an entertaining character study with the holiday theme and goes for a basically touching climax with a photo montage that manages to capture the drama with the reunion of April and her family rather than exploiting it in a sappy melodramatic moment. He gives no dialogue and relies solely on images to tug on our heartstrings. All the while this simple film takes an overused concept and milks it while managing to examine its characters and leave a sense of satisfaction in the end. This is a great holiday film.