Worried Thanksgiving Day will feel even more awkward and forced than last year? Peter Hedges’ upcoming film “Pieces of April” (United Artists) tells the story of how the holiday turns out for one troubled suburban family. The film is about those of us whose holidays can be some of the most dreaded days of the year. Katie Holmes stars as April Burns, a young girl who is hosting her first Thanksgiving dinner for her estranged family.
April has a particularly strained relationship with her mother, who is dying of cancer. The family sets out in its station wagon for a long, awkward drive toward April’s tiny New York City apartment. Oliver Platt plays her passive father, eager to have everything go as smoothly as possible.
Platt, who rarely plays the leading man, consistently delivers memorable supporting performances that are uniquely his own. He has performed in several highly successful films in the last fifteen years, including “Bulworth,” “A Time to Kill,” “Benny and Joon,” “Working Girl” and “The Three Musketeers.” In addition, we know him from repeated guest appearances on TV’s “The West Wing,” which earned him an Emmy nomination in 2001.
Hedges has worked behind the scenes on several of the most successful and touching films of the recent past. As a screenwriter of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “A Map of the World” and “About A Boy,” Hedges has perfected the art of composing films that remind us of the value of ordinary people and experiences. “Pieces of April” is a film that falls in this same category, except this time, Hedges serves as both the writer and the director.
In a recent Hatchet interview, Platt and Hedges spoke about the experience of filming this story, the message they wanted to get across and the path they have taken thus far as actors and filmmakers. Both Hedges and Platt were extremely genuine and excited to be talking about a film of which they seemed very proud.
When asked how he came up with the concept for the film, Hedges said he had wanted to write for a long time about young people putting together their first Thanksgiving. After his own mother became sick with cancer, he added that idea to the “Pieces of April” story. Hedges said he wanted to make a film that spoke about the feeling one gets of running out of a time when a loved one is terminally ill.
Platt said that he was immediately attracted to the script Hedges had written, adding that the script always makes or breaks a film.
The entire film was shot using a handheld camera, a tactic Hedges chose in order to create a more realistic and honest mood for the film. He said he had the camera follow the actors, and not the other way around, to make the characters and setting as realistic as possible. In addition, Hedges used background music only at a few specific points in the film. This lack of a soundtrack, in addition to the use of the handheld camera, makes the film stand out from a lot of big-budget films in theaters today.
In preparing for his role, Platt said he found it challenging to play a character who relays most of his feelings through silence, not through his lines. The actor stressed that most of the film just fell together successfully through great casting and a remarkable script. Platt added that when something seems too difficult to do, then it probably wasn’t meant to be. His role in “Pieces of April” came with relative ease, which meant to him that he was playing it correctly. And it’s fair to say that this notion applies to the entire film.
This article appeared in the October 23, 2003 issue of the Hatchet.