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Pieces Of April

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Pieces Of April

Starring: Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Peter Hedges
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 81 Minutes
Release Date: October 2003
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Oliver Platt, Derek Luke, Alison Pill, Alice Drummond, John Gallagher Jr., Sisqo, Sean P. Hayes, Lillias White, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Susan Bruce

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

Where, oh where, could mommy be? In Peter Hedges's bright and original PIECES OF APRIL, the mother in the family can't be found because she's already in the car in the garage waiting silently for the rest of the members of the household to get dressed. Joy, the ironically named mother of the Burns family, is played to the sarcastic hilt by Patricia Clarkson. Currently dying of breast cancer, the terminally unhappy Joy is a bitter woman who loves nothing better than absolutely tormenting her family with deathbed humor.

The movie follows two parallel story lines. In one, Joy, her husband Jim (Oliver Platt), their older teenage son (John Gallagher Jr.) and daughter (Alison Pill) and a senile grandmother (Alice Drummond) are off in the family's old station wagon. Their long car trip, full of recriminations and cynical stories, is to the seedy apartment of April (Katie Holmes), their oldest child. Joy and Jim struggle to remember a single positive moment in their upbringing of April. The best that they can come up with is a time when April was little and Jim recalls how peaceful she was sleeping. Once a hellacious child, the grown-up April has mended her ways, Jim claims, without much conviction. She has given up on her old drug dealer boyfriend and is turning her life around.

Meanwhile in April's shabby apartment in a ghetto area of an unnamed inner city, she and her new boyfriend, Bobby (Derek Luke), are attempting to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for April's family. The "feast" to be is just the opposite of a LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE meal. They drop the turkey on the dirty floor and then wash it in the equally filthy sink. To stuff it, they stick in whole celery stalks, which they trim with scissors. Most of this part of the story is focused on a hunt for an alternative oven, since April's oven, which she has never used, proves not to work. She ends up meeting all of the generally unfriendly and unsupportive folks who live in the other apartments in her rundown building.

The best of the subplots involves Latrell (Sisqo) and Evette (Lillias White), a pair of old gourmet cooks who give lots of advice and help to poor April. When they learn that her family actually likes cranberry sauce straight from a can, they are aghast and teach her how to prepare it properly from fresh ingredients. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should admit that my wife and son are fans of the canned variety.)

Will the rest of the Burns family ever get to April's apartment, or will they turn around as Joy keeps urging? Will April ever find an available oven to cook the bird? And will Joy and April ever reconcile their seemingly insurmountable differences? I'm not saying, and it doesn't matter anyway. In PIECES OF APRIL, the journey is indeed the reward.

PIECES OF APRIL runs 1:21. It is rated PG-13 for "language, sensuality, drug content and images of nudity" and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up.

Copyright 2003 Steve Rhodes

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