Most helpful positive review
56 of 63 people found the following review helpful
Great Thanksgiving Movie. Idiosyncratic Family Drama.
on March 2, 2004
April (Katie Holmes) is a young woman estranged from her family and living with her boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke) in a mildly run down apartment building on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Aprils' mother, Joy (Patricia Clarkson), is being treated for advanced cancer and may not live long, so April has invited her family for Thanksgiving dinner in hopes of favorably impressing her mother and improving their relationship while there is still time. The family -Joy, father Jim (Oliver Platt), brother Timmy (John Gallagher, Jr.), and sister Beth, (Alison Pill)- piles in their car for the long and stressful trip to the city, while April prepares the meal. But things get off to a bad start when her oven won't work.
"Pieces of April" was written and directed by Peter Hedges. It's a wonderful examination of family and an engaging portrait of these individuals who are so disparate in personality yet linked to one another by hope and tradition. And "Pieces of April" is an testament to the opportunities modern technologies provide to filmmakers with few resources. The film was shot in 16 days on digital video for $300,000. And, incredibly, the only glaring evidence of these limitations is the absence of wide-angle shots. Director Peter Hedges didn't use wide shots because they are problematic on DV. The result is that occasionally our field of view seems unnaturally truncated, but not enough to detract from the quality of the film.
I was a little surprised to learn that great thespians Patricia Clarkson and Oliver Platt and a young star like Katie Holmes would agree to such a low-budget production, but I imagine this fantastic script captured their interest. Peter Hedges' dialogue is crisp and forceful, and his characterizations are interesting and so genuine that these people might be your neighbors. Great actors, a great script, and resourceful direction can apparently create a terrific film with very little else. There is little I can say about Patricia Clarkson's performance except that she is brilliant as always. April's mother, Joy, is hypercritical, blunt, but a font of emotional strength, and no one could play this memorable character better. Oliver Platt departs from the quirky characters for which he is famous to play Jim, Joy's even-tempered tolerant husband. The supporting cast is large and perfect without exception: Alison Pill, who plays April's teenaged sister Beth, is destined to be a great character actress. Derek Luke, of "Antwone Fisher" fame, this time plays a man who is confident and comfortable with himself. All of April's neighbors are portrayed vividly, but especially memorable are Isiah Whitlock, Jr. and Lillias White as Eugene & Evette and Sean Hayes as nutty neighbor Wayne.
"Pieces of April" is an engaging, ultimately optimistic, family drama that is somehow both idiosyncratic and universally true. Great performances. Great script. This is the best Thanksgiving movie I've seen. I can't recommend it more highly.
The DVD: There are 2 unavoidable previews. Both widescreen and full screen formats are on the same disc! Bonus features include a "making of " documentary entitled "All the Pieces Together", an audio commentary by writer/director Peter Hedges, and a theatrical trailer. The documentary includes interviews with the film's cast and Peter Hedges, in which he discusses the film's genesis. Hedges also does a nice audio commentary in which he talks about the film's themes, story, and technical stuff. If you really like the film, the extras are worth watching. Hedges' commentary may be of particular interest to aspiring filmmakers seeking insight into how to get the most out of a small budget. At the very least it is inspiring on that level.