There are so many remarkable Thanksgiving films to choose from but my go-to one this year is the 2003 independent film Pieces of April starring Katie Holmes as 21-year-old April Burns, the black sheep of her estranged family. April is determined to host a memorable family Thanksgiving dinner in her cramped New York apartment with the help of her well-intentioned boyfriend (Derek Luke).
She definitely gets the memorable part right but for all the seemingly wrong reasons (a broken oven and the turkey hitting the floor are just a few in a series of mishaps). In desperation, a ‘domestically challenged’ April turns to her neighbors (including the awesome Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Lillias White and Sean Hayes) for help in preparing her Thanksgiving feast as her dying, disapproving mom (Patricia Clarkson), tolerant dad (Oliver Platt), siblings and senile granny (John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill and Alice Drummond) take a stressful road trip from nearby Pennsylvania, discussing the pros and cons of their destination along the way, unaware of the state of April’s neighborhood and graffiti-plagued building or that her boyfriend is black.
Although we the audience know calamity is this meal’s main course, the film remains optimistic even and perhaps especially, during its painfully relatable familial moments. Pieces of April personifies dysfunctional family life in all its light and darkness, making for a must-see film.
This character- driven film shows up on every “Best Thanksgiving Films” list and deserves every accolade. What makes this a go to film for me is how much I liked every flawed character even when I didn’t like their behavior. In particular, I really admired our stalwart heroine April who tries so hard but is clearly and hilariously in over her head. I hoped against hope that everything would come together for her. The complicated and comforting family connection and her innate desire to salvage it, especially in light of her mom’s advanced cancer, were palpable. I naively imagined her argumentative clan would walk through the door of her dark abode and somehow see the light. They’d embrace her with open arms while complimenting her on her cooking and creative décor as they joyfully announced her mom’s cancer had magically disappeared somewhere between Pennsylvania and New York. Next, they would admire her well-dressed boyfriend Bobby as he lavished April with her heart’s desire (including a personal chef because she obviously could have used one of those). While that lofty dream (spoiler alert) fails to come to fruition, there is hope for the somewhat broken Burns crew and I’m left clinging to those fractured, hopeful pieces.
That’s what good movies do; they bring out the optimist in me. I see a happy ending even in the midst of utter chaos. While the family may be broken, the unit as a whole strangely fits together, demonstrating that minor miracles can happen; even if only in the form of a homespun Thanksgiving dinner whose memory miraculously lingers long after the dishes are done…
For everyone celebrating Thanksgiving, hope yours is both delicious and memorable!