Not One Single Missing Piece

I have a short pile of reviews to write here from Sundance, but this one gets bumped up to the top of the list as being, simply, the most exciting film I have seen so far (granted it's only the start of the third full day of the fest right now).

It's Thanksgiving day. In New York City, April is preparing a full-out feast for her family, which is driving into town. April and her Mom, Joy, do not get along well, but Joy has cancer now, and the family is making an effort to make her likely last year the best it can be.

Note that this is a comedy.

The opening is marvelous. We have young April (Katie Holmes), parts of her hair died red and clearly a non-conformist sort, trying to sleep away the day, but her boyfriend (Derek Luke) knows how important the day is, and after nothing else works, swiftly picks up April and sets her in the running shower. Meanwhile, Jim (Oliver Platt) wakes up, and can't find his wife. He starts looking around the house for her, getting the kids, Beth and Timmy, involve. He finally finds Joy, all dressed and ready to go, sitting in the passenger seat of the family car. After a moment of recognition, Jim calls out to the kids matter-of-factly to get a move on.

My retelling, I know, doesn't do the movie justice, but Pieces of April is packed with great laughs, the good kind that are earned, rather than the gross-out humor we see so much these days. Roughly half the film is spent on April's attempts to cook - we know off the bat she is clueless about what she's doing, and when her oven fails to work, she spends an inordinate amount of time shuffling the turkey around the apartment building. We also watch the road trip for the rest of the family, dreading the visit, and dealing with Joy's cancer.

The ending is not just your typical warm and happy resolution, though it comes very close. There is a kind of tact employed here, which I won't give away, but is so perfectly effective for the tone of the film, I am unsure if describing its beauty would be fawning too much. I'll admit a rough patch or two, but this surely has something to do with the advanced shooting schedule - fifteen days, if I remember correctly.

What's interesting to me is that this "film" was shot digitally. It's certainly possible to tell from the flatness of the image in places, but first of all, it looks very good. Also, this is the perfect sort of project for digital, where we get very intimate with the actors, but in a more matter-of-fact way than a more stylized film shoot would have. With 530 out of 850 feature submissions to Sundance this year being digital, and this outstanding effort (with its outstanding audience reception as well), it's clear that digital has actually arrived, rather than remaining the curiosity it has been to date.

There is something heartfelt about this movie, something so true that we feel for every character, and it comes as no surprise to hear that writer/director Peter Hedges lost his own mother to cancer. He spoke, here at the world premiere, of finding himself without a project to work on after her death. He looked through his files and found notes about a girl trying to get a turkey cooked, running from oven to oven in her apartment building. And it was obvious that had to be his new project.

At the end of the movie, the audience gave one of the most enthusiastic rounds of applause I've ever heard, and Hedges received a standing ovation for the question and answer period. It's not just me - there's something that rings true about this film, and while it does not have distribution yet, I certainly hope this finds a larger audience. Finding a comedy that can make you cry is a rarity in this marketplace.

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