Pieces of April Review

April (Katie Holmes) and her mother Joy (Patricia Clarkson) never got on - in fact, they've always loathed each other but circumstances have recently changed... As Joy has been diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness, April has taken upon herself to invite the whole family over for Thanksgiving. Despite living in a hovel in the Lower East Side, April and her new boyfriend, Bobby (Derek Luke) are determined to make this a success and hopefully mend some bridges at the same time. However, when Bobby sets off to find something spiffy to wear, things start to go pear-shaped when the oven breaks down - how the heck are they going to cook the turkey now?

Filmed on DV and over a record time (just over 2 weeks), Pieces of April is a curious but endearing debut film which exudes Peter Hedges' passion for his story but avoids reeking of schmaltzy sentimentalism. The actors really give the film the needed rough and organic feel with Katie Holmes cast against type as the rebellious daughter and Derek Luke as her salt-of-the-earth boyfriend. Oliver Platt and Patricia Clarkson manage to also pull off a convincing couple of parents struggling to love their difficult child. Hedges managed to also coax Sean Hayes (Jack from Will and Grace) and SisQo to make fleeting appearances - though they both have minor roles, their characters offer an extra depth to April's world though Hayes could be accused of pushing the film too far into the burlesque.

Somehow Hedges hits all the right notes, making the film an elegant piece of independent cinema that completely overtook any expectations I had, though that was probably due to the marketing of the film as a madcap comedy, which it most definitely is not. It is proof that you can make a decent film that will appeal both to mainstream viewers as well as art-house fans without selling out or being over-pretentious.

The DVD:

The DVD starts with trailers for other MGM releases which can thankfully be skipped. The menus are the usual MGM style - basic but functional and simple.

The image:
Since the film was entirely filmed on DV, there are no visible problems with scratches or other damage but of course, digitalisation is noticeable in some scenes. The director of photography seems to have gone for a rather muted colour tones which works pretty well but does make the film less flashy. There's the option of viewing the film either in the original aspect ratio or fullscreen. The fullscreen option is cropped on both sides rather that open-matte so there's nothing to gain by watching it.

The sound:
Though billed as a 5.1 there's very little action outside of the front speakers but that's hardly surprising given the nature of the story and the prevalence of dialogue. However, the surround effects are used when needed and are effective. Globally, the mix is clear and problem-free.

The extras:
We get a director's commentary which is relatively good though a bit over positive with his cast. He mainly talks about how they put the film together on such a small budget and the way they found the locations and the cast - he reveals that Sisqo was turned down for the role of Bobby since he was 4 inches shorter than Katie Holmes and gives a lot of advice on how to to make an indie film on a shoestring.

We also get a making-of featurette which is thankfully short enough (15 mins) to remain interesting. It does cover some of the same material as the commentary (mostly how he came to write the story) but also offers some interviews with the rest of the cast and their onset experience as well as some footage of them shooting the film. It does however contain some spoilers - so you've been warned...

Finally we get the film's trailer which compresses all the comedy of the film into it (as well as spoilers galore) but conveniently forgets all the bleak aspects of it. I realise like films that mix tragedy with comedy (like About Schmidt) are notoriously difficult to market but it's slightly insulting to the movie's audience sell every single movie as a comedy.

It's nice to see quite personal films getting a decent release and Pieces of April manages to exceed our expectations with ease. The DVD gives us some decent extras and good image and sound.

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