Tuesday, December 02, 2003

REVIEW: Pieces Of April

Seen 30 November 2003 at Kendall Square #8 (first-run)
* * ¾ (out of four)

There are only a few prodcuers who are a better indication of what a movie will be like than the director. Jerry Bruckheimer, for instance, will give you a glossy movie with a fine cast all playing well below their capabilities in a story that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but which has some memorable bits. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, Gary Winick's InDigEnt (Independent Digital Entertainment) will generally deliver a grainy, flat-looking movie with a surprisingly good cast that talks a lot but doesn't say as much as they think they do.

Just as Bruckheimer sometimes lucks into a good movie every once in a while (The Rock, Pirates Of The Carribean), so here does Winick. Pieces Of April looks nicer than the other InDigEnt films I've seen (Sam The Man, Tape), which may just be a factor of better technology, but also seems to be the result of better lighting. Which is good, because what use are the fine performances by Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, et al., if you can't see them?

The story itself is simple; April (Holmes) is the black sheep of her family. Neither her parents (Clarkson and Platt) or siblings can think of any happy memories involving her, and since leaving home, her life has been one disaster after another. As this Thanksgiving starts, though, she seems to have turned a corner - her boyfriend (Derek Luke) seems like a nice enough guy, and she's offered to host the family's holiday dinner.

There's a likable desperation to April - though at times she seems too nice to have been the nightmare her family describes, she has lapses where she's rude or inconsiderate, and there's a subplot with her boyfriend that indicates she may still be quite capable of bad judgment. But her mother has cancer, and it's quite clear that this may be April's last chance to prove to her family that she's not a total screw-up.

There's a fair amount of padding - Sean Hayes has a character who is little more than obnoxious, and it occasionally seems that about twice as much time is spent on April's family in the car as needs to be. But there is one magical moment, where April is trying to explain Thanksgiving to a Korean family that knows little English - she stumbles over the sugar-coated version I learned in first grade, then the politically-correct rebuke, before finally cutting right to the heart of it. There's been lots of "true meaning of Christmas" movies, but a "true meaning of Thanksgiving" one is rarer, and interesting because of that.

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