Holiday movies are the best. I tend to spend most of October watching horror films and fun Halloween favorites in preparation for the start of the season. But while Christmas enjoys the longest list of themed movies, there’s a soft spot in my heart for movies about Thanksgiving. There’s Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, of course, which is a comedy classic. And then there’s the lesser known Dutch (also a John Hughes movie). But by far the greatest Thanksgiving movie of all time is Pieces of April.
I had the privilege of watching the film during my undergrad years and, thanks to my cinematography professor, even had the opportunity to enjoy a talk after the movie by the director, Peter Hedges. But even if I’d seen it pirated on my phone first, it wouldn’t take away the fact that this Sundance flick is spectacular in every way. I can’t think of another film that puts you in the middle of both a day of cooking for your family and a day of traveling to visit for Thanksgiving while embracing the true nature of the holiday. Sadly this film is not currently on Netflix, but Amazon’s got it for rent for just $3, so do yourself a favor and read this list so you know it’s worth way more than that.
The Cast Is Fairly Diverse
While the star of the film (Katie Holmes) is a cis-gender white woman and many of the main characters are her family members (also white), she is dating a black man (played by Derek Luke), and her neighbors include an older black couple, a gay white man (played by the hilarious), and an Asian family. Also, the two main characters (Holmes and her mother, played brilliantly by Patricia Clarkson) are women, which is nice since only 12% of women star in top grossing films and we need more women in starring roles.
The Plot Is On Point
April (Katie Holmes) and her mom don’t get along. They never have. But now her mom is dying from cancer and so April decides to invite her entire family over to her apartment in New York City to celebrate the holiday with her and her new boyfriend. The catch: April sucks at cooking and she has an insanely hard time making the meal into a reality after her oven breaks on her; and she’s concerned about introducing her new boyfriend, who happens to be black, since she’s scared her family won’t approve.
So we’ve got a few highly relatable topics here: Family troubles, cooking troubles, "will parents approve of my boyfriend?” troubles, cancer (and how much it sucks), and of course, relying on the kindness of strangers (similarly to how the Puritans had to rely on the Native Americans for help getting by after that first winter, and how the Indigenous people had to trust that the colonists wouldn’t screw them over. OK, that part didn’t work out too well). With so much going on, there isn’t much of a chance to ever get bored during this film.
There’s Food In Nearly Every Scene (Which Is A Must For Any Thanksgiving Film)
Nothing says Thanksgiving like lots and lots of food, and there’s food in nearly every scene of this movie. If it isn’t April hauling her bird from oven to oven, it’s her neighbors helping her make cranberry sauce or her family eating at a diner. Yum, yum, yum.
The Soundtrack Is Phenomenal
As any fan of Stephin Merritt will tell you, the Pieces of April soundtrack is perfect. Merrit is all over it, with tracks by his various bands, including the Magnetic Fields and the 6ths. Just listen to "Epitaph For My Heart" or the track above by the 6ths to get a taste of this amazing soundtrack.
April’s Miniature New York City Apartment Is Actually Believable
One thing that often bugs me is how large people’s apartments look in movies based in New York, especially when they obviously don’t work jobs that could afford them such luxuries (unless they’re trust fund kids, I guess, but how many of us actually are?). I highly appreciate that April’s place looks much like all the other NYC apartments I’ve been inside of: cozy, creaky, but still cool.
...And Her Neighbors Are Just The Best
At one point, April finds herself walking from door to door trying to see if any of her neighbors will allow her to cook her turkey in their oven for at least a few minutes at a time. We meet a friendly black couple who pride themselves on not eating anything from a can (not to mention making fun of her for coming to them with her “privileged white girl problems,” a vegan woman who won’t talk in the presence of the dead bird, and a tightly wound dog-owner (played by Will & Grace’s Sean Hayes) who’s as kind as he is ferocious, among others. They are all highly memorable and keep the movie going at a wonderful pace.
Patricia Clarkson Steals Every Scene
No one could do the character of Joy more justice than Patricia Clarkson. Her portrayal of the disapproving, cold mother now facing terminal illness is incredible. Every time she’s on screen, she finds a way to not only make you feel sorry for April, but to also make you laugh and even feel for her as well. In one scene, the family stops by a donut shop drive-thru to pick up a snack. When her husband reminds her that their daughter is cooking, she requests an extra dozen glazed, a comedic twist of the knife into her failed relationship with her first born.
And Oliver Platt Does An Excellent Job Of Portraying The Anxiety Of A Person Caring For A Dying Loved One
For the entire film, we see Jim Burns (played by Oliver Platt) fussing over his wife’s comfort, a permanent look of worry and dread on his face, even when he’s trying to play it cool. It’s obvious that he wants this family reunion to work and he struggles hard to make sure everyone arrives. Even when Joy jabs into him for his incessant need to care for her, he simply takes it, because what else can he do? He's such a relatable character for anyone who’s found themselves in such an unfortunate position.
We Get To Experience A Road Trip
No holiday movie is complete without one. This one enjoys includes some wonderful, subtle comedy.
With An Awesome Dinner At The End To Tie It All Together
The dinner at the film's end with all the various neighbors is a wonderful scene of people from various backgrounds coming together. Everyone is having a good time, eating and sharing food. All sorts of good feels here.