DVD of the Week… Thanksgiving edition: Pieces of April (2003)

Hello… and a big Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers… and happy Thursday to the rest of you lot!  When thinking about today’s DVD of the Week, two movies (and one fake trailer) immediately popped into my mind.  I first thought of a serious, virtual visual poem of a film about Pocahontas and John Smith… which I’m sure will be a future DVD of the Week, and actually has nothing to do with the holiday in any way shape or form other than early European settlers and Native Americans… then I thought of this… Pieces of April. Seems fitting as it’s one of the few films where the story revolves around Thanksgiving itself (again… other than the fake trailer preceding Grindhouse… but thats not a movie… yet).

The story is this… April (Katie Holmes) is the family outcast. Having moved from suburban Pennsylvania to a crummy apartment in Lower Manhattan, April has not spoken with her family in ages… and this year, she has decided to have Thanksgiving dinner at her place. The movie follows three stories as the day progresses… April preparing dinner, her boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke) preparing to meet her family and procure a suit and her parents (Oliver Platt and Particia Clarkson), brother, sister and grandmothers trip from home to Aprils. In each of these story lines, we are given amazing performances, nuanced story telling and an eventual emotional payout that I quite frankly did not expect.

As April begin preparing dinner, she discovers her oven isn’t working and begins searching her apartment building for a kind person who is both willing to allow her to use their oven and who isn’t themselves cooking a turkey. A wonderful collection of neighbors and personalities that anyone who has ever lived in an apartment will recognize appears. Bobby is a calm mess himself… doing his best to calm April while at the same time having all sorts of external problems to deal with as he does his best to make a good impression on a family he has not heard anything good about… and to be an African American man dating a pink haired and pierced Katie Holmes makes for one more layer of potential difficulty. Then her family… I’ll say the less said about them the better. They are, by the end, such fully rounded out people with well defined quirks that you will feel each and every emotion they all pass through… and looming over everything is the fact that Joy, April’s mother, is dying of cancer.

So there you have it… Pieces of April. You have all the information you need to realize this is an emotional roller coaster. The biggest surprise I had coming into this was Katie Holmes’ performance. She is fantastic. I’ve only enjoyed a Katie Holmes role once before… Wonder Boys, and this cemented my then respect for her abilities. Then she married that weird short guy and apparently signed away any talent or personality on film she had. Pity. Here, she is amazing. Patricia Clarkson is remarkable and Oliver Platt tucks his goofier side away and carries one hell of an emotional burden on his shoulders.

So if you are tired of watching football or the endless parades… your belly is distended and you can’t decide whether to take a nap, slip into a food coma or watch a movie…. may I suggest watching Pieces of April. Unless your last name is Manson… you will be both thankful that this is not your family and thankful that you allowed this family into your life. Buy it, rent it or stream it… just gobble this movie up.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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