Thanksgiving is always a hectic day, especially to those who prepare dinner. In a small New York apartment, one April Burns, a punk girl played by Katie Holmes, dreads the day will be a disaster. She has not cooked a Thanksgiving dinner before, but that is not what worries her the most. She dreads the arrival of her family, who thinks ill of her. Driving from the nearby state of Pennsylvania, the rest of Burns clan consists of Jim (Oliver Platt), wife Joy (Patricia Clarkson), daughter Beth (Alison Pill), son Timmy (John Gallagher, Jr.), and Grandma Dottie (Alice Drummond). Their road trip to New York is fraught with awkward tensions (read: funny moments). Joy, who is dying of breast cancer, is the movie’s most loose cannon. She bitterly fights her impending death by tackling inappropriate humor and speaking her mind out. In one scene, after her daughter Beth sings and asks for more song requests, Joy is quick to request that Beth stop. Ouch.

I found Peter Hedges’ Pieces of April to be a typical indie treat. Dysfunctional family? Check. Road trip? Check. Touching drama and dark comedy? Double check. This is indeed familiar territory and it is a little bit disappointing. I expect mainstream movies to be generally copycats of each other. When it comes to indies, I anticipate some originality. What makes the movie worthwhile is the acting. Patricia Clarkson, in an Oscar-nominated role, is a scene-stealer as the cancer-stricken mother. While the screenplay mainly uses her for laughs, Clarkson adds poignancy to the role. As the estranged daughter, Katie Holmes probably does her best work to date. While the movie has her go through sitcom-like obstacles, by the end of the movie, we want April to succeed. The film has its own genuine moments that can make you smile and sigh. As strange as the Burnses are, there are times when you can easily relate. I wish the film had shown more of the family dynamics. Alas, April’s struggle with cooking and the family road trip stay as separate storylines, until they conclude side-by-side towards the end. Pieces of April is not a great Thanksgiving movie, although I am grateful it is not bad one.

Grade: B

Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, Derek Luke, Alison Pill, Alice Drummond, John Gallagher Jr., Sean Hayes, and Sisqo
Screenplay by
Peter Hedges
Directed by
Peter Hedges
Rated PG-13
for language, sensuality, drug content and images of nudity