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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

dvd mashup: celebrate Turkey Day with ‘Home for the Holidays’ and ‘Pieces of April’

If you’re dreading the spectacle of the family — yeah, all of them, including crazy Uncle Steve and those kids of your cousin whose names you can never remember — gathered round the table for Thanksgiving dinner later this week, then you need to psych yourself up with a quick viewing of Home for the Holidays and Pieces of April, two of that rare breed: the Thanksgiving movie.
If you’re looking for confirmation that everyone’s family is nuts and that this is perfectly normal and nothing to be too concerned about, then start with Home for the Holidays [my full review]. Jodie Foster, wearing her director’s hat, gave us this woefully underappreciated little gem in 1995, about an art restorer played by Holly Hunter who heads to her parents’ home for Thanksgiving at a particularly trying moment in her life. Unlike most movies focusing on family and holidays, this one is refreshingly unsentimental. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t packed with emotion: it’s just of that unnervingly poignant variety, the kind that makes you laugh and cry at the same time as it delves into the awkward relationship between aging parents and adult children that cannot help but be stuck in dynamics created when the kids were, well, still kids. The mix of love and frustration on display might make you feel like someone has been spying on your own holiday dinners — it’s that real. [buy at Amazon]

Piece of April [my full review], from 2003, is pricklier, a story of emotional estrangement and hoped-for reconciliation that keeps you guessing till the end about how all these hurting, angry people are going to come together in the end… or whether they will at all. Punky April (Katie Holmes, in her most intriguing performance yet) has invited her suburban parents to Thanksgiving dinner at her funky East Village apartment, though none of them are looking forward to this and seem to be approaching the event more out of a sense of duty than anything else. April’s hopeless dinner preparations — she’s completely inept in the kitchen — are intercut with her family’s uncomfortable drive into the city in a car full of bickering. Both women, we learn, are bitterly angry, at the world and at each other, for many good reasons and plenty bad ones: Patricia Clarkson as April’s mom is spectacular as a woman seemingly long past forgiveness, and that fuels the film’s caustic emotion and distressing suspense: can these two women possibly see past their differences to at least enjoy a simple meal together? This is the film to watch when you want to feel better about an inevitable Thanksgiving disaster looming for yourself. [buy at Amazon]

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