Pieces of April (2003)

Just a few words here about this recent and touching little film. Katie Holmes plays April, a young lady, out on her own, with a doting boyfriend, and apparently suffering from some pretty deep depression. It is Thanksgiving Day, and she has, for some reason she can’t seem to figure out now, offered to prepare the big meal for her family. April’s parents, Jim (Oliver Platt) and Joy (Patricia Clarkson), are traveling with their two other children and April’s grandmother into NYC for the meal, and it’s obvious that they are dreading the reunion. April has had a falling out with her family, and nerves abound as the prospect of seeing one another looms large.

The film covers the hours leading up to the meal, as April prepares it and her family makes the journey. The trepidation is palpable. Both sides are working to put their best foot forward, but as the time for reunion draws near, old wounds resurface. One begins to wonder if they ever actually are going to get together, and if they do, how it could be anything other than a disaster.

The camera draws us into these people’s worlds immediately. Most everything is shot in close-up, often with a handheld camera. We cannot escape these moments of deep emotion, pain, and fear as this family journeys to reunite with their daughter. Lest we are tempted to look away, to divert our attention to something more neutral, this stylistic choice by director Peter Hedges (writer of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) prevents us from doing so. The editing is abrupt from April’s apartment to the family in the car and back to the apartment again. These people are closer to one another than they think, and that sharp knot in the stomach that’s clearly in all these characters solidifies that opinion.

The ending is sublime, beginning with the sound of a camera shutter against a black screen. Then, a series of photographs track across the screen, one at a time. One is reminded of our own memories, of times when family has been together, of times when pain has created distance, and of times when old wounds were healed. Pieces of April is a gentle and touching film full of grace, mercy, fear, and forgiveness.

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