Sunday, September 17, 2006

Pieces of April

So, being a huge Stephin Merrit fan, it's inevitable that I start checking out movies he graciously pens the soundtrack for, based on the somewhat flawed "If its Merrit-endorsed, it must be good" theory. With that in mind, I eagerly anticipated Pieces of April.

The title proves apt, as the dialogue is pretty sparse for a movie shot in New York. Instead you get to piece April's life together, through snippets of her very believable interactions with the people around her and snapshots from a Nikon SLR running parallel in another story. Charming little product placement, noted this very biased reviewer, himself a proud owner of a Nikon SLR.

At the deathly early morning of 7:00am, April struggles to wake up to a special day--thanksgiving in fact. She's supposed to prepare the feast for her family, who hails a day's drive away from the suburbs. But she's not particularly adept at it, and when we find her to-do list having only one item, "1. Pre-heat oven.", we know she's in for some adventure.

The simple premise could very well be frivolously centred on Katie Holmes's Gothic persona when the universe conspires to spoil her day. There was much light-hearted humour involving her turkey, who had the unfortunate experience of being roasted in no less than 4 different stoves. But as the story unfolds, the human insights and the emotions that come with it start to cut much deeper than is expected of an amiable light-weight comedy.

Running parallel to the culinary adventure is the road trip that her extended family, together with all their dysfunctionalities, took to New York. April's character is not very well developed. Instead we feed on scraps of information about her through the conversations and bickerings from the road trip. The gravity of the thanksgiving dinner is slowly revealed to us in the Nikon snapshots provided by the avid photographer in her brother. April and family had not been in the best of terms, she of the wild ways estranged from the deeply religious mother. The mother is dying, and the family is spiritually compelled to make good this last dinner, whether they like it or not.

Peter Hedges has written a very heartwarming tale of redemption, shot and directed it with a few dollars, a digital camcorder and a whole lot of heart. He is ambly supported by his casting, which makes for a very realistic story-telling. Contrived scenes there were a few, especially the ones involving a British neighbour who, with his posh tastes and immaculate manners, leave me wondering how could he have accepted dwelling in the derelicts inhabited mostly by the marginalised. Nonetheless, a big fan of his other work, a screenplay adaptation of Nick Hornby's About A Boy, I am ranking him alongside Richard Linklater as the American names to look out for.

Weird, funny, honest, intelligent, and very very touching, it's a typical Stephin Merrit song translated onto the silver screen. What's more, running at just under 80 min, it's the perfect movie if time's not on your side (for the day, that is!).

Rating: 7.6

Next up, through the lenses of Peter Hedges again, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?.