Making the move from TV to movies is a slippery slope. Look at the cast of Friends (Jennifer Aniston excepted). The jury is still out on Katie Holmes, just off a five-year run on Dawson's Creek. She's already done films, proving sexy (OK, she's always that) and smart in supporting roles (The Ice Storm, Go, Wonder Boys, The Gift). But her big star shot last year as a college psycho in Abandon failed to impress critics or audiences.
Pieces of April, a playful comedy laced with heartbreak that wowed them at Sundance, should put things right. Holmes has her best screen role to date as April, a screw-up to her suburban family. April lives in a dumpy Manhattan walk-up; her boyfriend (Derek Luke of Antwone Fisher) is black — you get the picture. To mend wounds, April invites her mom (Patricia Clarkson), dad (Oliver Platt), sister (Alison Pill), brother (John Gallagher Jr.) and granny (Alice Drummond) to drive down for Thanksgiving dinner. She can't cook, but, damn it, she will.
It sounds like sitcom pap. But writer Peter Hedges (About a Boy, What's Eating Gilbert Grape), making an encouragingly nonpushy debut as a director, is too good for that. Even mom's terminal cancer doesn't turn the film maudlin, thanks to Clarkson, who is scrappy perfection in the role. But it's Holmes who holds Pieces together. Whether she's begging for cooking tips from her black neighbors (Lillias White and Isiah Whitlock) or fighting with a bitchy tenant (Sean Hayes of Will and Grace), Holmes nails every laugh without missing the dramatic nuances. She makes April and her movie well worth knowing.