There is not a doubt in my mind that PIECES OF APRIL will be a new holiday classic. If nothing else, it gives the cooking-impaired among us hope as it pits heroine April against a balky stove and a raw turkey. When I spoke to APRIL’s star, Katie Holmes, and its writer/director, Peter Hedges, on October 3, 2003, working with an uncooked fowl as a co-star was just one of the topics we covered. Krispy Kremes as a symbol of the divine, and the importance of never giving up, be it cooking the family feast or getting an indie film made were some others in a relaxed chat that included a fair amount of ribbing back and forth between actress and filmmaker.
Any film that declares Krispy Kreme donuts as proof of God’s existence is a film that has much to teach us no matter what our level of metaphysical enlightenment. In this perfect film, writer/director Peter Hedges astutely observes with sardonic wit and aching emotion the two great train wrecks of family life, the car trip and Thanksgiving. Yet what should by all rights be a cataclysmic result is instead a précis on the family ties that bind and oft times crush, that never panders to its audience. These are characters who are difficult and complex and who sometimes hit all too close to home.
Our heroine is April (Katie Holmes), the wild child of a solidly upper middle-class family that has made her feel like the first pancake, that is, the one that never turns out and gets thrown away. In her dismal apartment in an unsavory part of New York City, she is making Thanksgiving dinner for her family as an acknowledgement of their estrangement, her mother’s terminal illness, and a gesture of more hope than she can actually allow herself to muster. Said family is making its way from an undisclosed location by car, stopping along the way for mother Joy (Patricia Clarkson) to throw up in reaction to her cancer treatments, to bury roadkill, and to stop off for junk food in the certain expectation of a dismal bill of fare awaiting them at April’s table. Its a mixed bag, as most familys are, with the perkily passive-aggressive little sister (Alison Pill), the artsy little brother with a camera (Thomas Gallagher, Jr.), the father (Oliver Platt) who puts the best possible face on it all, and a grandmother (Alice Drummond) with just enough Alzheimer’s to let her drift in and out of lucidity.
PIECES OF APRIL does not give us detente as the answer or even the goal, people here in the real world dont seem capable of such harmony on a regular basis. Rather, he dwells on the moment, the one where everything comes together, the one that can nourish our souls for a lifetime. As Grandma, in one of her lucid moments puts it, all you need is one good memory.