A review of “Pieces of April” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: PG-13 for language and adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 21 minutes

 

 

The dreaded family holiday meal comes full comic circle in this marvelous little gem of a film.

Katie Holmes (“Go”) blows the socks off her ingénue image as April Burns, the black sheep of the family who’s seeking reconciliation by inviting the clan to her grungy Manhattan walk-up for Thanksgiving dinner. Encouraged by her supportive lover Bobby (Derek Luke), April pulls out all the stops for a festive affair.

          April’s culinary skills rank right down there with her ability to communicate with her estranged folks, so things go south in a hurry. Initially enthusiastic about her domestic duties, but ultimately tiring of mashing raw potatoes and tracking an errant turkey, April turns to her neighbors for help. 

Ah, neighbors.  Those elusive and eclectic individuals who may or may not be there for you when the chips are down.  The Good neighbors give April relationship advice and cooking tips while turning up their noses at her canned cranberry sauce and packaged stuffing (all the while fussing over their perfectly gingered persimmon soup).  The Bad neighbors turn deaf, dumb and blind when April’s oven goes on the fritz.

While frantic preparations ensue in the Lower East Side, the squabbling Burns family slowly makes their way from the suburbs.  Mom Joy (Patricia Clarkson) is a critically ill mass of angry neuroses, bitchily determined to undermine April’s precarious goodwill. Goody-two-shoes sis Beth (Alison Pill) aims to please, while pothead brother Timmy chronicles every awkward moment with his omnipresent Family-Cam.  Dad (Oliver Platt as Jim) is the family diplomat, furiously trying to drum up some happy memories of parenting April.  Fond recollections of flailing tantrums, shoplifting, and trimming her brother’s bangs with a lighter.

 “April” is a small independent with a big heart; a comic horror story of economical and poignant proportion.   Holmes is thoroughly engaging, striking the perfect balance of trepidation and childish enthusiasm glazed with an erratic dark side.  Clarkson manages to steal the show as April’s beleaguered mom, at once tragic and hilarious.  Peter Hedges’ (“About a Boy”) script is a thing of beauty – snappy, stirring, and laced with ancestral arsenic.

Sometimes the pieces just fit.