Probably one of the scariest things about moving out on your own is the first time you have your family over for dinner. Take that fear, add troubled relationships, a need to resolve issues in life, and a broken stove and you get a piece of Pieces of April.
One could make many excuses for Pieces of April: It was filmed over 16 days on a budget of less then 7 million dollars after starting and stopping 2 other times. But despite the muted, sometimes grainy appearance of digital filming, Pieces needs no excuses. Its simplicity is one of its greatest strengths, allowing the story to be told by the actors in a more natural, almost theatrical fashion.
As the movie starts it’s obvious that there is a rift between April (Katie Holmes) and her family. Her know-it-all sister Beth (Alison Pill) and photo-bug brother Timmy (John Gallagher Jr.) seem to get along fine with their parents Jim and Joy Burns (Oliver Platt and Oscar Nominee Patricia Clarkson) but none of them get along with April. So why April has invited her family to her small New York apartment for Thanksgiving dinner is just one of the questions that’s quickly raised as the film opens. It is not the last question however. Director Peter Hedges lets the story evolve as the movie progresses. Nothing is spelled out for us all at once, which means questions appear and find their answers as the movie moves on.
As we watch April’s family interact on the trip to her apartment, we learn more about April as she attempts to cook the Thanksgiving meal. After she discovers her oven is dead, she drags her uncooked turkey through her apartment building, meeting strange and interesting characters along the way. This offers the opportunity to show us who April really is and just how like some of her family she has turned out to be, or maybe how much like her some of her family has always been.
The DVD release of Pieces of April sadly comes up a bit short unfortunately, although not all that surprising knowing what a low budget the film had. It has the typical DVD standards of 5.1 audio, available in several different languages. The movie can be viewed in widescreen or full frame without having to purchase a second copy, or switch disks, and the theatrical trailer is included, along with trailers for some of MGM’s other releases.
Some of those other trailers offer one of the disk’s annoyances. In the taste of old VHS tapes, the DVD auto-plays a couple of MGM trailers (for Uptown Girls and Out of Time) when the disk is first inserted into the DVD player. You can’t chapter advance through these trailers or skip to the menu, although you can fast forward through them. Come on MGM, I thought we had advanced beyond that sort of behavior!
The only Special Features to speak of include a short featurette entitled “All the Pieces Together”. This shows the cast talking about their characters experiences, and director Peter Hedges offers some insight into how the story idea came up and the real life situation that put the movie back in front of him. The now standard fare Director Commentary track is also included in which Hedges gives a lot of the same information he put into “All the Pieces Together”. So if you watch the featurette and the commentary together, it starts to feel redundant. Hedges speaks with a bit of a relaxed cadence, so make sure you’re well awake if you watch the film with the commentary track. It does offer a nice look into some of the issues of filming a low budget film in 16 days, but his stories don’t take up the entire movie so about halfway through the gaps between stories start to grow.
Since the film was shot on such a low budget over such a brief period of time, it’s likely no deleted scenes were included simply because they didn’t exist. Some outtakes might have been nice though, or some extra bit of bait to make someone want to purchase the DVD. As it stands it’s primarily a good rental to watch the movie and return, without any real reason to put it in your DVD library permanently.