Pieces of April (2003)

pieces of april

“It’s a white girl, in the prime of her overprivileged youth, and I just can’t wait to hear all about her problems.”

The Scoop: 2003 PG-13, directed by Peter Hedges and starring Katie Holmes, Oliver Platt, Patricia Clarkson, and Alice Drummond

Tagline: She’s the one in every family.

Summary Capsule: How to cook a turkey in 12 easy steps. Step 1, tear off your neighbour’s hairpiece…

PoolMan’s rating: Look for the sequels, “Bits of May” and “Chunks of June”.

PoolMan’s review: As of this writing, it’s almost exactly four months to the day before I turn my fiancée from Ms. PoolGirl into Mrs. PoolWoman (I guess… the details about how her name will change are still hazy). I love her, and I’ll never fail to admit it.

But I desire another.

So does she, though. I mean, it’s all good. Didja ever see that episode of Friends where they all compare their list of dream celebrities to sleep with? We’ve got a similar understanding around my house. PoolGirl’s all into Joseph Fiennes and Ewan McGregor, and she’s even apparently finally forgiven Ben Affleck for running around with that J-Lo bimbo. Me, I’ve made no secret of my little flame for Liz Hurley. But over the years we’ve known each other, I’ve managed to keep my list small, should I ever get caught lusting after someone who hadn’t been previously stated. That way, I can add a celebrity to my list on a moment’s notice, without a fear in the world. Which brings us to Katie Holmes. Oh man. Cute, cute, cute. I’ve got a thing for brunettes, and she’s one helluva brunette. Of course, it’s not like she’s too talented. Or is she?

If nothing else, Pieces of April will likely be remembered (or, sadly enough, not remembered) as the most UN-Katie-Holmes-like role Katie’s ever done, and probably the best work she’s done to date. In it, she plays the titular (hee) April, a girl long estranged from her family, who lives in a rundown apartment in a bad part of New York City. She’s a former drug addict, plainly still dealing with cleaning up her life, looking tired, weary, and thoroughly tired of the whole world and everybody in it. Nobody moreso than her family, apparently.

And what a family. See, PoA revolves around a Thanksgiving dinner which April is putting on in her dilapidated building. Seems her mother is dying of breast cancer at an alarming rate, and even April can’t turn her back on her in such a dark time. So she invites over the family. Her father (Oliver Platt) is a nervous wreck, anxiously trying to hold his clan together in the face of his wife’s illness. The two younger siblings, an easygoing brother who loves photography and a neurotic sister who obviously hates living in the shadow of even a rejected April, both add a lot of depth. Their grandmother, who seems a lovely woman trapped by the evils of Alzheimer’s, is the source of many great moments. And of course, mom herself, in stark denial of a failing body and family, flirts with the hope that for once, just once, her eldest daughter can do something, anything, right.

Which doesn’t seem likely. If you read the back of the box, the story summary says something along the lines of “A girl tries to prepare a turkey dinner for her estranged family and has lots of trouble doing it”, and that’s about it. Which is true, in the same way that Mutant Reviewers is “A place where you can read about PCU and get yelled at by British wrestling fans”. If you go by the box blurb, you might mistake this movie for a nice, light family comedy. Don’t do this. Half of the story revolves around the fact that, on the one day April is actually trying to get along with her family by making a turkey, the oven in the apartment breaks down, leaving her with a large pot, an uncooked bird, and five incoming cynical relatives. So we see April running up and down her building, transferring her bird from oven to oven as the various neighbours she’s never even bothered to speak to before offer varying degrees of help, while her boyfriend struggles with avoiding gangs and obtaining formal wear.

Where the movie really shines is its performances, through and through. It’s such a stunningly emotional piece. Katie Holmes was a smart, smart cookie to take this role. It is absolutely not in her comfort zone. It’s not cutie-pie Katie as you’ve always known her. April is a tough piece of work, frustrated beyond belief by her situation, and worn out by a lifetime of hardship and being the round peg in a family full of square holes. The Burns family is equally up to the task, supplying laughs and tears as we watch them commute from their home to the inner city of New York, hopeful yet afraid of the dinner to come, but dealing with so much more.

Pieces of April is a pretty sharp film, one with a lot of emotional truth, some big time gravity, and a few much needed laughs. It starts slow, believe me, and there will be more than one moment in the early going where you’ll probably wonder when this whole thing will finally get moving. But believe me, once it does, you’ll be satisfied. It’s a great cast that gives an terrific performance, one that was sadly overlooked by the public. Highly recommended.

“I don’t even get that. What IS Prince Albert In a Can, anyways?”

Intermission!

  • April peels an onion with a knife.
  • There’s already a band-aid on April’s finger before she actually cuts it.
  • Singer Sisqo as Latrell.
  • Sean Hayes (of Will & Grace fame) plays a strange, effeminate man with lots of quirks… what a stretch!
  • I know the process of cooking turkey gets ME that hot, too. Yikes!
  • Timmy seems the most intimately involved with his mom’s sickness. The pictures he takes of her, before and after her treatment, as well as his quiet supply of pot to her, speaks a lot about what he’s done to support her.
  • Wayne’s apartment seems a little too nice for that building.
  • Maybe it’s time “Katie” just finally changed her name to “Kate”. She IS 25 years old at this point.
  • Perhaps we could marry Beatrice and Caesar…
  • The director gave Derek Luke (Bobby) without knowing anything about Antwone Fisher. After the audition, Hedges not only cast Luke, but described the experience as the best audition since Leonardo DiCaprio tried out for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
  • Patricia Clarkson was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the cancer stricken mother, and I would agree with the nomination wholeheartedly.
  • Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits?Briefly, as you see the dinner finally happen, for better or for worse. Beyond that, only if you have an extremely high need to see scrolling white text on a black background.

Groovy Quotes

April: Please, can you help me, I have a problem.
Eugene: Who is it, Evette?
Evette: It’s a white girl, in the prime of her overprivileged youth, and I just can’t wait to hear all about her problems.

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