Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Peter Hedges’ 2003 Pieces of April documented a brambly family gathering with shrewd humor, occasionally brittle drama and relatable misery: At least once, we’ve all trundled off to a grin-and-bear-it Thanksgiving dinner, dreading reunions dictated by a holiday mandate of “Yay! Togetherness!”
It’s obvious why Joy and April Burns clash. Pierced pixie-girl April (Katie Holmes) is reluctant to rise and prepare Thanksgiving dinner in her dingy New York flat for her traveling family. Meanwhile, her mom, Joy (Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson), is in the car before her dad, Jim (Oliver Platt), lifts the toilet lid.
Suffering breast cancer, Joy is convinced this trip will be a disaster — bound to reinforce disappointment with April’s choices and certain to leave a freshly painful memory on which to die. (The $300,000 film’s grainy, blown-out visuals add to the pretense of watching another family’s uncomfortable home movies.)
Thankfully, Hedges stages no knockdown, drag-out dinner-table histrionics, as the brunt of the film’s 80 minutes documents April’s screwball quest to piece together a meal and Joy’s claustrophobic drive full of loaded questions. (Comprising a strong ensemble, Platt, Derek Luke, Sean Hayes, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Alison Pill, John Gallagher Jr. and Alice Drummond pepper these separate vignettes with panache.)
Sidestepping sappiness, Hedges tensely sustained the idea that Joy and April’s interactions have begun with bared teeth for years. If they can even summon it, one comforting moment will have to suffice. April understood this reconciliation must be ramshackle, and found tough-minded emotion and well-earned laughter en route.