November 03, 2005

Pieces of April

Never can I recall being so furious at a movie as I was near the climax of Pieces of April. It was right before April's disapproving family were about to go up to her apartment. Bobby, April's boyfriend, comes flying at the car, bloodied and beaten from a run in with Tyrone — the new incarnation of April's drug-dealing ex-boyfriend Eddie. He goes up to send her down. They take off. Were I not in a public theatre, I would have screamed at the television. There are movies for disappointment and misunderstanding, but they need to be structured differently. Had this been the end of the story, I would have left the theatre betrayed. I still feel like the plot twist exploited the audience, but fortunately the movie finds its way to the right ending in the end.
April's dying mother Joy is in the bathroom when she hears another mother yelling at her young daughter, then watches as she storms out. The girl, in the stall, makes sorrowful eye contact with Joy before quietly pulling herself together and leaving the bathroom. It is a low-key moment, but it comes very close to justifying the plot point at the heart of my fury. Joy, having desperately disappointed April as April had so often disappointed her, the moment of eye contact with this total stranger finally allows her to relate to and connect with her black sheep offspring. So she and her pot-rolling son take off in the bitch seats of two other patrons' motorcycles. It is a moment typical of this movie — where the quirky details for a change feel true, right, and natural instead of tacked on and deliberate.
The film begins with an April that is hopeless, lifeless, and aimless. It ends with an April that is optimistic, resourceful, and connected. The main reason having the family take off was such a big slap in the face was because we watched this girl over the time it takes a turkey to cook grow, change, and aspire for that which all parents and children should share. She had earned that happiness and the movie had crafted no obvious reasons to deny her that. I never watched "Dawson's Creek" and was underwhelmed by her performance in Batman Begins. But here she has a real likable vulnerability about her. It's a performance that is affecting with its openness.
When her previously unused stove turns out not to work at all, she scours the building looking for someone to lend her theirs. One couple she meets, Evette and Eugene, begin by laughing at her and end up rooting for her. Their world has a warmth and safety to it, recalling the feeling a child has when under the roof of his protective elders. They introduce her to the heart and soul of true Thanksgiving cooking, but soon need their stove back for their own Thanksgiving bird. Her back-up stove doesn't pan out when its owner, a vegan with a door plastered with bumper stickers for liberal causes, decides she wouldn't be able to stand the smell of flesh cooking. The bird's next home, in the apartment of a character representing Sean Hayes at his most unusual, only lasts an hour and costs fairly literally an arm and a leg. The dinner's saviour finally comes with an apartment of Chinese whose English is limited but whose generosity extends beyond cultural boundaries.
With each, the film recognizes the inherent humour but looks beyond to find the humanity. Like the population of a Wes Anderson film, all the characters seem half a notch off-kilter. But writer/director Peter Hedges is able to make the off-kilter relatable nearly effortlessly. Anderson's characters are caricatures. Hedges's are living and breathing human beings.
Yes April's sister was irritating, and yes the grandmother had nothing really to do. Bobby's storyline was probably a distraction, and that plot twist at the climax pissed me off. But once the film gets back on track, the final moments are captured poignantly through pitch-perfect music and the sheer emotion of April's brother's camera lens. Finally, with those few still frames, the film gives me the only thing I was really asking from it. ()


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