Pieces of April

Reviewed By Natasha Theobald
Posted 11/09/04 22:57:35

"A Family Portrait"
5 stars (Awesome)

It is that time of year again, the time when holidays make family gatherings inevitable, even for those among us to whom the word family doesn't spark lovely memories of evenings spent reading the Bible together by the fire. Every family has its story. Each family member has his or her particular perspective on the way the life of the group has unfolded. Sometimes those pictures live in our memories with a golden glow of happiness, and sometimes they don't. This movie is about a family gathering for Thanksgiving, with a multitude of pressures mounting that this time around it somehow be extra special, a mending of sorts. That's a lot to expect from a stuffed bird and cranberry sauce.

April (Katie Holmes) awakens in her New York apartment to the knowledge that this is the day the family is coming. Her boyfriend, Bobby (Derek Luke), is supportive and excited to meet them, but, for her, the tension of the day rests in undercurrents of days gone by, the less than good ones. Still, she wants this to go well. The two set about cooking and decorating and making the apartment homey, so the family will see that their lives are good and happy. Bobby takes off to run an errand just as April realizes her oven isn't working. Her task, then, is to not be the screw-up her family expects and to salvage the day with the help of neighbors and donated oven space.

Meanwhile, April's family is going about the business of loading up the car to drive to New York. Joy (Patricia Clarkson), her mother, has been ill, and her sister (Alison Pill) thinks they should just stay home. April's father (Oliver Platt) has made and received promises, however, to and from April for how this day will be. He wants to give her the chance to make good. April's brother (John Gallagher Jr.) is along for the ride. His job is to photograph the occasion and provide his mother with medicinal comfort for her nausea.

The cast of this movie is amazing. The actors are able to find funny moments on the heels of sad ones, comedy in the face of despair. Sean Hayes shows up as a haughty neighbor, and Alice Drummond gets in a few good one-liners as Grandma Dottie. Because of the naturalism of the actors and the style of the film, watching it feels more like seeing a documentary, a moment in time. It all seems very real and very close to home. You can smell the food cooking and feel the action of decorating the momentous day with less than momentous-seeming streamers and balloons.

This film really reaches beyond the activity of a day like this to the things which remain on the back burner in the wake of it. Family knows you, for better or worse, or, at least, they think they do. Around family, it seems you never get a chance to grow up, or to prove that you have grown up. They are still yakking about your first steps or the time you cut the dog's hair. They have expectations, and it is only too easy to just fall to them, easier than fighting to really be seen.

I reviewed the soundtrack for this movie, and it is quite good. I was a little surprised, at first, that the music wasn't used in a different way, but, as I fell into the realism of the approach, it seemed only right that the music shouldn't overwhelm events or announce itself. If the music became overbearing, it might ruin the realism, making things seem more movie-like than life-like. I think it was a good choice, but you should still check out the CD.

This movie made me laugh, and it also made me cry. It seems sort of cliche to say that, but I'm reporting the truth. I really felt something, and I strongly believe that most people will. Some things just have a bedrock of truth to them that makes them universal, and, at the same time, deeply personal. I enjoyed seeing things from both sides. It really gave me something to think about.

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