Pieces of April Peter Hedges

Pieces of April Peter Hedges
On paper the premise sounds incredibly maudlin: the black sheep of the family (Katie Holmes) tries to cook a Thanksgiving dinner in her Lower East Side apartment for her estranged family who are reluctantly driving down together because the mom (Patricia Clarkson) is dying of breast cancer and this will be their last Thanksgiving together. To the immense credit of writer/director Peter Hedges, Pieces of April manages to avoid most of the traps that could turn this into a made for TV tearjerker by ensuring that the plot continues to twist right up to the last few frames. Shot over 16 days on DV, it plays like a Dogme version of Jodie Foster's Home for the Holidays. The only disadvantage to this Dogmetism is that the score by the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt is practically non-existent, other than the excerpts from 69 Love Songs playing in the background. Patricia Clarkson got the Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but every member of this screen family is worthy, especially Oliver Platt as the stoic father who has blind faith that despite her wayward past, his eldest daughter will actually bring the family together. This is the directorial debut and first original script for Hedges, who adapted screenplays for What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and About a Boy. Subtlety is its strongest point, and despite its obvious NYC setting, it feels rather Canadian — in a good way, not just because it looks cheap. At 80 minutes though, it seems a bit slight; one feels it could have been chopped down to an hour or fleshed out into a longer feature. The director's commentary is mostly unrevealing, except for the fact that Sisqo, aka the Thongmaster, would have got the part of the boyfriend, except that he was six inches shorter than Katie Holmes. (MGM)