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MGM Studios DVD presents
Pieces of April (2003)

"You're just like me, except for your slight weight problem."
- Joy (Patricia Clarkson)

Review By: Kevin Clemons  
Published: February 22, 2004

Stars: Katie Holmes, Oliver Platt, Patricia Clarkson
Other Stars: Derek Luke, Sean Hayes, Allison Pill
Director: Peter Hedges

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, drug content, sensuality, and images of nudity
Run Time: 01h:20m:54s
Release Date: February 24, 2004
UPC: 027616901811
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B A-BC+ B-

DVD Review

All anyone ever wants is to be accepted by their parents whether we admit it or not, and generally we do pretty stupid things to gain said acceptance. In the case of April Barnes, played by Katie Holmes in the new film Pieces of April, being accepted is secondary to simply being considered a part of the family.

April is the black sheep of her family, spending her days far away from her hometown in a low rent apartment on New York's Lower East Side. For reasons yet unknown to the audience, she is disliked immensely by her sister Beth (Pill), looked down upon by her dying mother, Joy (Clarkson), but is championed by her loving father (Platt). At the urging of her boyfriend Bobby (Luke), April invites her estranged family to her apartment for what could be their last Thanksgiving dinner together.

Having never prepared any type of large dinner, April sets out with help from Bobby to make a holiday meal that will prove to her doubters that she has things in her life straightened out. This, of course, causes a downward spiral that begins with a broken oven, and things only get worse from there.

Pieces of April plays like a grouping of stories that never really mesh together, but the end result is generally very pleasing. I appreciate the way in which writer/director Peter Hedges balances a wonderful level of comedy and drama while avoiding heavy-handed moments that may have offered the film a less human feel. There are small moments scattered throughout that seem so emotionally honest, and balance other moments where the script offers big laughs. This is particularly evident in a scene involving Clarkson, which, at the start seems to be a buildup to a speech of heartbreaking realism, and is then deftly turned into one of the funniest moments in the film.

Hedges culls wonderful performances from both Holmes and Clarkson, as each offers the best work of their careers to date. Hedges has given Clarkson a character that allows her to span an ocean of emotions, and her ability to convey so much with a simple facial expression is fascinating. It is not a showy performance by any means, but it has so much heart that it proves that Clarkson boasts pure talent.

If there is a criticism, it is that the film suffers from sub plots that have no real bearing on the main theme. The side plot involving Bobby seems unnecessary as it takes the viewer away from where the central focus of the script is located. I enjoyed Bobby as a moral compass for April and it is easy to understand that Hedges felt the need to get him out of the apartment so that April could struggle on her own, but surely he could have been given him something better to do than shop for clothes. Another instance is the inclusion of Joy's mother, played by Alice Drummond, who is suffering from Alzheimer's: the family picks her up from the nursing home, and she is never given anything more to do than sit in the back of the car and remain mostly silent.

Perhaps the reason that the film feels incomplete lies in the fact that it was shot over the course of two weeks for a very small budget. Using digital video, Hedges proves that he is an assured director, and he has a feel for the characters he has created. However, the film could have used another 30 minutes to fill in plot holes, while also giving us a proper ending—instead of a nice closing scene, we are treated to a photo gallery while music plays. It is a nice touch, showing that they are memories that will last forever, but the ending would have benefited from something more.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Pieces of April was shot on digital video and the transformation to DVD yields both positive and negative results. Colors are done very nicely while the darker colors show no grain and are surprisingly deep, given the low budget of the film. On the negative side, the transfer does offer some edge enhancement from time to time and I noticed several scenes that had a very soft look to them. Still, given the low budget of the film the transfer is a very fine effort.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is dialogue driven, and Hedges uses virtually no music throughout the film. Dialogue sounds crisp and clear while the remaining ambient sounds come off nicely in both the left and right speakers as well as the rear speakers.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Peter Hedges
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: A commentary by Peter Hedges as well as a brief featurette make up the bonus material for the Pieces of April DVD. Hedges offers a very informative track that covers everything you could ever wish to know about the production and history of the film. He discusses the casting, shooting in such a short amount of time, his personal influences on the story (his mother died of cancer shortly before he started writing the film), and his struggles to get a studio and backers to believe in him as a director. It is clear that Hedges loves his film and it is exciting to hear a director who has a true appreciation for everyone involved in the filming.

A brief promotional featurette is offered and it includes interviews with Hedges and the cast. If you have listened to the commentary, then everything here is old news, but it is a done well and it is nice to hear the actors discuss how they came about the script as well as their understandings of the characters that they play.

The theatrical trailer is presented in nonanamorphic widescreen.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Pieces of April is an offbeat and touching story of a family reconciling, or at least attempting to, over the course of one Thanksgiving day. I admired the film for its performances as well as a generally pleasing script by director/writer Peter Hedges. It is a fine film that is deserving of a much larger audience. Recommended.


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