Pieces of April, Nov 04

In a humble New York City apartment, an unusual Thanksgiving dinner is in the making. Young April Burns (Katie Holmes) is preparing a turkey for her family but—HELP—it’s her first time cooking and—HELP! HELP!—the oven won’t work. April spends the morning knocking on doors of her unknown neighbors in search of an unused oven. The reactions to a punk young woman roaming the building with a raw turkey, including the donation of some cutting-edge baking time by a peculiar man (Sean Hayes), make for bittersweet humor.

On this Thanksgiving there’s a lot more at stake than a bowl of cranberry sauce. April’s mother is dying of cancer. And having been the unmanageable child, April wants to make peace with her family. But the order is tall and the gap is wide. April is a Goth babe sporting rainbow hair and raccoon eyes. She lives with her black boyfriend Bobby. And she can’t seem to hold a steady job. While her Thanksgiving efforts are laudable, the odds of winning over her estranged family are about as high as getting her turkey cooked.

Pieces of April offers a rare mix of humor, drama, and some unusual mashed potatoes. The quiet, low-budget script is beautifully executed by Holmes. And the mighty Patricia Clarkson plays a bucking bronco of a mom with gallows humor and a short fuse, facing off with the Grim Reaper as best she can.

The film is well-written and directed by Peter Hedges, a West Des Moines native who adapted two novels—What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and About a Boy—into fine screenplays. With a flair for sparse dialogue and uncharted storyline, Hedges captures a lot of pieces of reality in a short 80 minutes. While April is explaining Thanksgiving to her Asian neighbors, in whose oven she last parked her turkey, she concludes, “Once, there was this day, this one day, when everyone realized they needed each other.”

Hedges’ simple story gives us hope and plenty of well-cooked food for thought.