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For Thanksgiving: ‘Pieces of April’

Posted on November 23, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Another of my favorite Thanksgiving movies is Pieces of April, with Katie Holmes as the estranged daughter making dinner for her family, including her mother (Patricia Clarkson), who is dying of cancer.  Derek Luke plays her boyfriend and Alison Pill plays her sister in this brilliantly performed, touching, and warm-hearted story.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sz6pGSKGdho&feature=related
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What’s Cooking?

Posted on November 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexuality, brief language and a perilous situation
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking, character gets intoxicated
Violence/ Scariness: Child in peril, gun
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2000
Date Released to DVD: November 21, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B000092T3G

My favorite Thanksgiving movie is What’s Cooking?

The Star-Spangled Banner plays over the credits and we see a classic Thanksgiving poster, only to find that it is on the side of a bus that carries very few passengers resembling its smiling Caucasian family. A very diverse group attends a school Thanksgiving pageant and then we follow four of the families, Jewish, Latino, African-American, and Vietnamese, as they celebrate this most American of holidays.

Co-writer and director Gurinder Chadha is an Indian woman raised in England, and she brings a sympathetic outsider’s eye to the stories of the four families, emphasizing their similarities more than their differences. All four of the families love each other, keep secrets from each other, want acceptance from each other. And all of them drive each other crazy, just like everyone else.

They watch football and the Macy’s parade. They cook. They have kitchen triumphs and catastrophes. They say things like, “You’re so thin!” “Give Grandma some sugar!” “I haven’t called because I’ve been swamped with work.” “That’s a very…unusual recipe.” “Dad, you remember that I’m a vegetarian, don’t you?” and “You never listen to me!” They love to see each other but they can’t stop fighting with each other. As one character says, “I guess you can’t call it a family if someone isn’t speaking to someone else.”

The Jewish parents (Lainie Kazan and Maury Chaykin) struggle to accept their daughter’s lesbian relationship (with Julianna Margulies of “The Good Wife”).  The Latino mother (Mercedes Ruehl in a beautifully warm-hearted performance) wants to introduce her new boyfriend to the family, and her estranged husband has been invited to dinner by their son. The Vietnamese family is coping with a son who has been suspended from school, a daughter who has a condom in her coat pocket, and an older son who is too busy to come home from college. And the African-American mother (the always wonderful-Alfre Woodard) struggles with a demanding mother-in-law and a painful rift between her husband and son.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWA91OcPa7U

Chadha handles the multiple story lines and large cast with an expert hand, cutting back and forth to underscore the similarities and the differences. We see potatoes prepared by hand, mixer, spoon, and food processor and the assortment of turkey presentations is one of the movie’s best treats. Chadha has a good feel for American diversity — the video store owned by the Vietnamese family has shelves for videos in Talalog, Farsi, and Korean. We get to see a replica of the the all-white Thanksgiving poster with a Latino family.

The stories can get a bit melodramatic, especially a close encounter with a gun near the end of the movie, and the stories veer from archetype to stereotype at times. But there is much to enjoy in its situations, characters, and performances, especially by Woodard and Ruehl, two of the finest actresses in movies, and it holds a lot of promise for future projects by Chadha.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and sexual references and encounters, including adultery and homosexuality. Characters smoke and drink. A child is in peril, and it gets very tense. The movie also includes family confrontations that may be upsetting to some people.

Families who see this movie will have a lot to talk about concerning family communication. They should discuss why so many people felt that they could not tell the truth to their families, and how they would respond to some of the crises faced by the family members in the movie. They may also want to talk about some of their favorite Thanksgiving memories.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “You Can’t Take it With You,” an Oscar-winning comedy about a very eccentric but loving, family.

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Comedy Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week

Pieces of April

Posted on November 23, 2010 at 8:00 am

One of my favorite Thanksgiving films is this touching story of a young woman, estranged from her family, who invites them to Thanksgiving dinner at her apartment.
I love movies that don’t feel like they have to tell you everything.

“Pieces of April” is a movie that does more than trust its audience; it invites the audience to participate by bringing their own ideas and experiences to fill in the story.

It takes place on that most terrifying of holidays, Thanksgiving. April (Katie Holmes) and Bobby (Derek Luke) wake up very early in their apartment on the Lower East Side of New York. He is looking forward to hosting the family and she is not. This is because it is her family that is coming.

April and Bobby start to get things ready, and then he leaves because he has “that thing” he has to do. As soon as he goes, April discovers that her oven does not work. She has to wander through her apartment building, her turkey dressed and stuffed but still raw, trying to find someone who will allow her to borrow an oven.

Meanwhile, her family is on its all-but-inexorable way from the Pennsylvania suburbs, no happier about it than she is. Joy (Patricia Clarkson), April’s mother, has cancer. This will probably be her last Thanksgiving. She and April have never been comfortable with each other and both are overwhelmed by the fear that they will not be able to find a way to make it work this time. One desperately needs a good memory to die with and one desperately needs a good memory to live with.

The family drives to New York: daughter Beth (Alison Pill) trying to be perfect, son Timmy (John Gallagher, Jr.) trying to remove himself by taking pictures of everything, dad Jim (Oliver Platt) trying to keep everyone happy, and Joy’s mother (Alice Drummond), trying to hold on to her own memories, and Joy, angry and bitter and trying not to try anymore.

The film is shot on digital video, which gives it intimacy and a little messiness. It’s easy to believe that it is a home movie. The performances are fresh and unaffected. The look on Pill’s face as she tries to maintain her cheerful demeanor after her feelings are hurt; Jim’s eyes as he looks over at Joy, not sure whether she is sleeping or dead; Bobby’s description of being in love, the neighbors’ cooking advice, April’s explanation of Thanksgiving to a Chinese family, and especially the lovely last scene are moments that are real and touching and meaningful.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and some off-screen violence. A character uses medicinal marijuana. There are some brief graphic images. The themes of the film may be difficult for some viewers. One of the movie’s great strengths is its non-stereotyped portrayals of minorities, including one of the most often stereotyped minorities portrayed in movies, terminally ill people. African American and Asian characters are vivid and complete individuals. The movie cleverly (and sweetly) confounds the audiences’ expectations for one African American character.

Families who see this movie should talk about its theme of memories. What are some of your favorite memories and what memories do you most want to make? They should also talk about how each member of the family reacted to Joy’s illness (including Joy) and what it says about them and their relationship to the family.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other Thanksgiving movies about family stress like Hannah and Her Sisters, Avalon, Home for the Holidays, and especially What’s Cooking, by the writer/director of Bend it Like Beckham.

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Drama Family Issues Holidays

A Thanksgiving Treat

Posted on November 26, 2009 at 6:00 am

One of my very favorite movies begins with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the original Miracle on 34th Street.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yTNW5a08yw

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Best wishes to you and your families, and please know how grateful I am for the chance to be here on Beliefnet and for every one of your comments.

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