Pieces of April is about a young woman named April who tries to reconcile with her family before her mother dies from breast cancer. While her family does agree to meet with her on thanksgiving, it’s made clear that both Aprils mother and siblings are fine with the excommunication between them and thus complain and delay their trip in as many ways possible. The film ends with Aprils mother coming to the understanding that she has been far too cruel towards her daughter and does end up going to face April alone before the rest of the family arrives. It’s a sweet ending if the viewer can look past what a competent mess the rest of the film is.
In order for this film to work the view needs to understand Joy, April’s mother. The film makers need to get the audience to understand both why Joy was so angry towards her daughter and why she comes around in the end and they fail here in spectacular fashion. While there is a scene explaining that Joy had no happy memories with her daughter and some minor lip service is paid to April making a series of bad life choices, none of it puts the viewer in a head space where they can understand or sympathize with how cartoonishly evil Joy is throughout the film. Early in the film Joy has the family stop at a doughnut shop and, when reminded that her daughter is cooking them dinner, orders another dozen in spite. Latter, she literally has the car stopped in the guise of having a serious talk with her family about what they should due upon her death, only to make jokes about how they will discard the food April makes without her noticing. It’s understandable that a parent might be angry with their child for making the kinds of mistakes the viewer is told April has made, but Joy doesn’t seem angry; she revels in how horrible she is. Time and time again Joy is portrayed as being either disinterested in making up with her daughter or actively trying to keep the grudge going. When she sees another mother treating a young girl the same way it can be expected she herself has treated April, it’s hard to believe that she take this as a sigh that she was in the wrong. While Joy’s character is where a bulk of the films problems lie, it’s not even close to all of them.
There is a scene near the middle of the film where April tries to explain Thanksgiving to a non-English speaking Chinese family, but continuously botching it as if she understands the point but not the importance. This is a pretty accurate depiction of the films other big thematic point: race issue. While the film doesn’t feel “racist”, it’s hard to ignore the “not all white people….” message beneath the surface. In order to really explain this, look at one of the time the film gets this right, April’s boyfriend Bobby. Bobby is African American, and near the beginning of the film he goes off to “take care of something” and the viewer fallows parts of her journey. He soon makes a stop at a payphone and the scene is step up as to imply he’s making a drug deal. However, it turns out that he is looking to buy a suit in order to impress April’s parents. This is honestly a great subversion of racist tropes that is meant to chastise the viewer for making these kind of assumptions based on outdated stereotypes. Even as the film ends the viewer sees a multi-cultural Thanksgiving dinner as a beautiful thing with good people of all races. To bad the film makers doesn’t seem to really understand what the “issues” with racism really are. At one point in the film April is looking for help cooking her turkey, telling a African American neighbor that she has some problems, when she is cut off as the neighbor laughs at the “privileged white girls problems”. The film then cuts to April having explained her situation to her neighbor who is so shook up by April’s sob story that she immediately chooses to help April. This implies that having a sob story too tell counter’s privilege in a society filled with systematic racism, and that’s just not true. When people of color talk about “white privilege” they aren’t saying white people don’t have issues, they are saying that those issues aren’t associated with race. This scene just makes it seem that the film makers are more interested in saying “not all white people are bad” to the point where it undermines the more positive and progressive scenes throughout.
Pieces of April attempts to be an examination of a dysfunctional family and American race relations, but due to a hilariously bad misunderstanding of racial issues and a cartoonishly antagonistic family the film fails on nearly every level.
The fifth episode of the first season of Bojack Horseman also deals with the topic of dysfunctional families and it does so in a more honest, funny and poignant manner. Because of this, it’s hard to find a reason anyone would need to sit through this slog of a film. Pieces of April fails on nearly every level, with only one or two scenes pushing slightly above “unredeemable” territory.
My Grade: 19/20