Neck tattoos! Choker necklaces! Patricia Clarkson!

By Sam Reed
Updated Nov 28, 2019 @ 6:00 am
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Credit: Alamy

Even in her Dawson days, my feelings towards Katie Holmes could be described as lukewarm at best.

But then she wore a cashmere bra in public in the middle of a breakup and I was shaken to my core. The audacity. My personal Katie Holmes Awakening had begun.

So imagine my delight when I began searching for “Thanksgiving movies” ahead of the holiday and across my screen flashed a 25-year-old Katie wearing smudged black eyeliner, dyed-red pigtails, microbangs, and a ‘90s choker if I’ve ever seen one in the poster for Pieces of April.

Obviously, I paid $3.99 and rented it on Amazon immediately.

The 84% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score didn’t lie — Pieces of April was everything I’d hoped a “Thanksgiving movie” on the first page of Google’s search results could ever be, down to Holmes’s faux neck tattoo.

The plot is simple enough: A rebellious 21-year-old April Burns, who has a rocky, nearly-nonexistent relationship with her mother, invites her family — a goody two shoes sister, a spunky brother, her dementia-stricken grandmother, and her middle class, middle-aged parents — to her New York City apartment for Thanksgiving after it’s revealed that her mom (Patricia Clarkson) has been battling breast cancer.

While I’m not about to start a petition to have Pieces of April reconsidered for the Best Motion Picture Oscar of 2004 (Clarkson, it should be noted, was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting acting role), it did check many of my holiday movie boxes. There were clichés, low-budget costumes, Patricia Clarkson in a wig, and, most importantly, it made me tear up.

It isn’t without suspense, though. Being that the movie was released in 2003 and features an interracial relationship between Holmes’s April and a black man named Bobby (Derek Luke), I cautiously found myself wondering, “Oh no, is this gonna be racist?” But (spoiler) it mostly wasn’t! In fact, this movie had all kinds of stereotype traps that could have ended much worse had it been produced by, say, Harvey Weinstein. During the 80-minute run time, Holmes encountered an older Asian couple that doesn’t speak English, a black couple, and a huffy gay man, and I only cringed maybe twice.

“I so wanted to deal with a bunch of different cultures and have them collide in a believable way,” writer-director Peter Hedges, who also wrote the screenplays for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and About a Boy, told Indie Wire in 2003. “April is in love with an African-American man and race is not issue. I love them as a couple and I believe their love.” Really, the only group Hedges chose to drag in the film was vegans, and that’s saying something.

Does it hold up perfectly? No — it definitely reads a bit like a white man’s interpretation of an idyllic, race-free world, but I still enjoyed it. My only complaint is that no one told me this perfectly imperfect Thanksgiving movie existed sooner.