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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

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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

Having written the novel for "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" (a slice-of-life about a young man responsible for taking care of his retarded younger brother since their obese mother had not left the house in seven years), Peter Hedges was the ideal person to script and direct this off-beat story of a dysfunctional family forced to confront one another on Thanksgiving Day. "Pieces of April" is in part a tale of family reconciliation, motivated in large part by the a dying mother's wish to break bread together as an entire unit. In part, Hedges evokes the glory of Manhattan, whose diversity of inhabitants has been responsible for both the sort of alienation that prevents us often from knowing our next-door neighbors, while at the same Hedges evokes a love letter to the world's most exciting city.

The writer-director's photographer, Tami Reiker, trains her lenses on disparate scenes during the sixteen-day shoot. One segment focuses on the tenants in a Lower East Side dilapidated building (on the ironically named Suffolk Street), whose twenty-something April Burns (Katie Holmes) shares a tiny apartment with her boy friend, Bobby (Derek Luke). The other catches the young woman's family in their station wagon; Joy Burns (Patricia Clarkson) and Jim Burns (Oliver Platt), her two younger sibs Timmy (John Gallagher Jr.) and Beth (Alison Pill), and her senile grandmother, appropriately named Dottie (Alice Drummond). As Hedges shifts from the nabe to the wagon and back again, we watch the big Thanksgiving Day reunion takes root.

New Yorkers may well relate more to the progress of April's meetings with her neighbors than to the evolution of the approaching family get-together. In a building that could be a microcosm fo the Big Apple, April is pushed by a breakdown in her oven to knock on the doors of fellow tenants whom she had never met. Looking to lease a gas range for a few hours on that fateful day, she encounters, in turn, a black couple who wonder just what sort of a problem could possibly be faced by a "young, privileged white woman with the rest of her life to look forward to;" a Chinese family who do not speak English; an introverted dandy who allows her to use his brand new convection unit but with a price; a vegan with posters of her politics tacked to her door; and one of two guys who slam the door in her face.

The dramatic tensions of the suburban segment of the Burns family are not as compelling. Jim must remind his teens that though they may not like the idea of visiting their older sister, this could be their cancer-ridden mother's last chance to enjoy the holiday as a whole family unit. For her part, Joy (also ironically named at least until the concluding scenes) is bitter. Her illness has turned her personality around to such an extent that the woman's dotty mother no longer recognizes her (if indeed she did at any point during her senescence).

Despite the brief length of the film, two scenes do not work and seem almost part of another movie. In one, Bobby takes off to leave his girlfriend to her cooking, meeting up with a friend, Latrell (Sisqo), who fits him out with a suit from a Salvation Army store. The other involves Bobby, scooting his way home and running into Tyrone (a white guy formerly called Eddie), who berates him for stealing his girl.

On the whole, "Pieces of April," a heartfelt story full of laughs, intrigue, regrets and memories, makes for an impressive billet- doux to both family life and to the unexpected pleasures of living in a tenement building chock full of eccentric but mostly friendly and generous neighbors.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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