PIECES OF APRIL, a little love-labor indie from writer-director Peter Hedges, charmed critics in 2003, and its lower-case box-office take of $3,300,000 was more good news by a factor of 10, as the character-driven comedy-drama only cost $300,000 to get on-screen. Everyone in the cast clicks, but the real winner was Patricia Clarkson, who was nominated for Supporting Actress by the Academy Awards crowd, and scooped another dozen noms from assorted organizations, winning eight of those.
21-year-old ‘April Burns’ (Katie Holmes, 25) is alienated from her family, and the Thanksgiving dinner she’s frantically trying, against all odds, to prepare for their skeptical visit seems destined to go down as another loss, especially with her waspish mother, the seemingly joyless ‘Joy’ (Clarkson). Joy’s ill, which accounts for some of her attitude. Valiantly putting a game face to the impending flop is father ‘Jim’ (Oliver Platt, playing it reserved). Siblings ‘Beth’ and ‘Timmy’ (Alison Pill and John Gallegher Jr.) contribute and endure darts, and grandma ‘Dottie’ (Alice Drummond) is aptly named. April’s considerate and hopeful boyfriend ‘Bobby’ (Derek Luke, previously seen as Antwone Fisher) does what he can to help. Mostly, it’s the crazy quilt of assorted neighbors in April’s run-down apartment building that help her organize defenses for the family assault on T-Day. Along with lucky casting, the smart writing and direction keep things in check from being too quirky or fake-cute.
“This way, instead of April showing up with some new piercing or some ugly new tattoo and, God forbid, staying overnight, this way, we get to show up, experience the disaster that is her life, smile through it, and before you know it, we’re on our way back home.”
In the mini-genre of Thanksgiving-as-trial-by-friendly-fire-Day comedies (usually coming with ‘drama’ attached after the dash) this one rates a solid, with plenty of tart sauce in the script, excellent acting (notably Holmes and Clarkson) and a fitting wrapup to the 81-minute investment.
Choice nuggets of support are provided by Sean Hayes (channeling Alan Rickman), Lilias White and Isiah Whitlock Jr. Shot in 16 days, cast and crew working for scale or zip. Hedges got $10 for directing and another $10 for his script. It paid off.
Clarkson to Newsweek “Let me tell you, those were real bathrooms in real gas stations. It was brutal. Ah, the perks!” See the film, you’ll get the quote.