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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo by Teddy Maki)

photo caption:
ANTICIPATION: April (Katie Holmes) waits for her family to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner.

end caption.nd of caption


Guess Who's Coming to Thanksgiving Dinner?: "Pieces of April"

Review by Kam Williams

Back in 1967, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner tackled the incendiary issue of interracial marriage at a time when such unions were still a felony in 16 southern states. William Rose won an Academy Award for his socially progressive script which helped the groundbreaking movie land ten Oscar nominations (including Best Picture, Best Director and every acting category).

The film featured the final pairing of screen legends Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, because the terminally ill Tracy died 17 days after the the cessation of shooting. Tracy and Hepburn co-starred as permissive parents who suddenly find themselves re-examining their liberal leanings in light of prejudices stirred by their daughter's announcement of her plans to marry a black doctor.

Today, master crafter Peter Hedges (What's Eating Gilbert Grape) resurrects the same bombshell in Pieces of April, a movie which builds the bulk of its tension around an interracial dating revelation set to be detonated at an impending Thanksgiving dinner. It's a sign of the times that, this go-round, the theme underpins a light romantic comedy rather than a maudlin melodrama.

Pieces of April marks the directorial debut of Hedges who is well-known as a gifted scriptwriter and a 2003 Oscar nominee for his adaptation of About a Boy. He makes the most of his first attempt at directing, serving up a gem, despite the severe constraints of a $300,000 budget. Without ever allowing his holiday parable to collapse into TV sitcom style superficiality, Hedges, nonetheless, seizes on any opportunity for a more sophisticated brand of humor, all the while setting us up for a touching, tear jerking finale.

The picture stars Katie Holmes (of TV's Dawson Creek) as April Burns, a rebellious refugee from suburbia sharing a run-down walk-up in Greenwich Village with her doting black beau, Bobby (Derek Luke). The movie takes place over the course of one very eventful day, a Thanksgiving to remember.

April's parents Joy (Patricia Clarkson) and Jim (Oliver Platt), have accepted the olive branch extended by their estranged daughter and are allowing her to host the annual family feast. As the movie opens, they are preparing to make the uncomfortable automobile trek from Pennsylvania to New York City with addlepated Grandma Dottie (Alice Drummond) and their two teenagers, Beth (Alison Pill) and Timmy (John Gallagher, Jr.).

Meanwhile, the barely domesticated April, who has never prepared a meal of this scale before, learns that her oven isn't working. Because boyfriend Bobby is off roaming the streets on some secret mission, she must rely on the kindness of her kaleidoscope of colorful neighbors for assistance. Thus, this tale basically alternates between the beleaguered bohemian's mad dashes around her apartment building and the rest of the Burns family reminiscing in the cramped confines of the family car.

A visibly enfeebled Mom, who is recovering from breast cancer, leafs nostalgically through a family photo album which includes both before and after mastectomy shots. Grandma is somewhat senile and has to be reminded who's who. Jealous Beth, a model child, is upset that her elder sibling is suddenly being rewarded for her wild lifestyle. Timmy secretly shares marijuana with his Mom in rest stop bathrooms. Dad is optimistic about the reunion since April said that her new love reminds her of him.

Predictably, Bobby's being African-American comes as quite a shock, and the fallout threatens to ruin the day. Pieces of April works because it creates a credible, recognizable family caught in all sorts of crises. Yet the movie makes us laugh repeatedly while delivering an emotionally satisfying message about unconditional love. Delightful, charming, an instant holiday classic.

Excellent. Rated PG-13 for profanity, sensuality, brief nudity, and drug use.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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