Writer/director Peter Hedges' (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) charming and tiny independent film Pieces of April is surprisingly and unquestionably one of the best pictures of the year. April is expertly filmed with a digital video camera and the scenes of the Burns family often reminded of a family road trip that you might see on Wonder Days. And the edgy April character is likely to go down as one of my favorite and most memorable in a film this year and in a long time.
April Burns (portrayed by the lovely Katie Holmes) lives in a claustrophobic apartment in a less-than-glamorous area of New York City with her boyfriend, Bobby (Derek Luke). April, being 21 years old, and having left her highly dysfunctional family, is hosting Thanksgiving. Her parents, Joy (Patricia Clarkson) and Jim (Oliver Platt) are hesitant to attend because of bad memories with their rebellious daughter. Their other daughter, Beth (Alison Pill) is a controlling and critical menace who doesn't allow her mother to breathe. Joy has cancer and her family is becoming increasingly concerned about her and how much time she has left in her life. The son Timmy (John Gallagher, Jr.) takes pictures of everything the family does for Joy to remember their lives by. The determined mother waits patiently in the car as the rest of the family begins to wake up, Beth rebelling and Jim confused about how to react. April has Bobby leave so that she can focus on the challenging tasks at hand which she finds very difficult to complete. Her oven breaks and she is forced to wander the halls of her apartment building in search of a working stove for her heavy and lazily stuffed turkey. The family's dysfunctions begin to surface as April races to make the dinner-and she is unsure if it will amount to an avail.
The digital camera gives Pieces a home video quality and allows for a more intimate portrait of this family and their lives. Katie Holmes stars in her best role ever-and her most fulfilling performance. The entire cast is magnificent and veteran Patricia Clarkson will likely find a supporting actress Oscar nomination for her work done here. Ms. Clarkson embodies her character and lives and breathes it, giving the film its heart. She steals every scene she is in, and so does Antwone Fisher star Derek Luke. All the characters are so lovable-just like the film-and they will stay with you for long after you view the film.
The one staggering sidestep in Pieces of April can be forgiven because everything else is just so good. Sean Hayes is a serious miscast as a neighbor who takes April's turkey "hostage." Hayes is off the screen very quickly so it doesn't impact the film to a great degree. The screenplay is quirky and original with witty dialogue and some hilarious, low-key humor is scattered throughout the film. April is also poignant and deeply touching, with an ending that brings the film full circle, and an original approach to storytelling that takes a sad story of a sad family and shapes it into an enchanting and very powerful comedy-drama. It's a witty, often bittersweet and sad, film about life and the different ways of living it. One of the best 20 pictures of 2003 without a doubt and is better than any Hollywood explosive epic film out there.