Love Actually may rule the Christmas season but the cinematic queen of Thanksgiving is arguably Pieces of April, written and directed by Peter Hedges and released in 2003, a year after his About a Boy.
Pieces of April, though, is about a girl. She’s April Burns (Katie Holmes), her family’s designated eldest-child screw-up – drugs, boys, and just about anything else worth a snide remark that will marginalize her presence in the family. Joy, her mother (Patricia Clarkson, who snagged a best-supporting actress Oscar for the role), is April’s primary verbal tormenter from afar.
With Joy terminally ill, the Burns’ clan decides to accept April’s invitation to spend Thanksgiving with her and her new, genuinely nice-guy boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke) – whom the family has never met – in their Lower East Side of Manhattan’s digs.
In addition to April’s Mom, piled in the car for the road trip are her softie Dad (Oliver Platt) who’s magnificently attentive – we’re talking sainthood levels – to the needs of chemo-nauseated Joy, and budding photographer brother and relentlessly irritating sister (John Gallagher, Jr. and Alison Pill, who’ve both become actors to watch in Short Term 12 and Milk, respectively; both co-star in HBO’s “The Newsroom”). Rounding out the group is Joy’s own mother (Alice Drummond), in the early stages of dementia but who nevertheless is capable of bearing horrified witness to Joy’s verbal cruelty towards April.
On the surface, Pieces of April exudes an indie vibe – much of the movie was shot on Suffolk Street – of a feisty, black-sheep daughter who’ll have to prove her worth to restore her place in Mom’s heart. But at its core, the movie is a profound exploration of the archetypal Moon, seamlessly addressing Lunar themes of food, mothering and nurturing.
April, who’s enjoyed little in the way of collective family affection and could use a long overdue maternal hug, is a hopeless cook who tries to mash potatoes in their raw state. When her oven suddenly dies on her – Bobby is away on a last-minute errand – she embarks on her own appliance-seeking odyssey, ringing door bells in her apartment complex in search of a spare oven for her soon to be purified-by-fire redemptive bird. (Because this escapade occurs on Thanksgiving Day, it’s safe to assume she’ll find a few receptive neighbors who’ll proverbially help heat things up.)
The Moon also rules emotions, memories and the past. Towards the end of the movie – after the family has found April’s street address but is put off from entering because of concerns for their safety and the facade’s grunge factor – is there still time for Joy to experience her epiphany?
Pieces of April makes Robert Frost’s definition of home – the place which, when you have to go there, they have to take you in – into a two-way street. Bring your appetite and tissues.
Astrology Film Rating: ☽ (Moon)