In a very poor zone of New York, April Burns and her boyfriend, the Afro-American Bobby, are preparing to receive April's family for thanksgiving dinner. While Bobby tries to borrow a suit for himself, April realizes that her stove is broken. She tries desperately to find a neighbor that can let her cook the turkey, since she does not want to fail (again) with her family. Meanwhile, in a suburb of Pennsylvania, her dysfunctional family is preparing to travel to New York. While driving, the relationship between the Burns and their black-sheep April is disclosed through the conversations between her father Jim, her resented mother Joy, her brother, her sister and her grandmother. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The premise of the movie is a simple one and basically summarizes the whole movie, "A wayward daughter invites her dying mother and the rest of her estranged family to her apartment for Thanksgiving dinner."
The movie starts us off on that Thanksgiving morning. First, we are introduced to April, and her boyfriend Bobby who are living together in a shanty apartment in New York, and then to April's mother, father, and brothers and sisters in another location, who are preparing to make the trip to visit her. We aren't provided with any back story, except what we gather about the past from conversations that April's mother has with the rest of the family during their voyage.
Honestly, I was finding myself slightly bored during the beginning of the movie. The film, although over an hour, manages to span over just one day, lending it a slow feel. The cinematography was somewhat unimpressive. The soundtrack is sparse, with most scenes not having any music at all, and the music that is present is humming just outside the viewer's awareness most of the time rather than being the main focus in any one scene.
I found myself easily able to make prejudgments about each of the main characters based on their limited dialogues and their reactions to things going on around them. I stereotyped Beth as the movie's prim and proper "good younger daughter". She gave unsolicited advice with surprising frequency, and always seemed to try to distinguish herself as being the opposite of the "wild child" elder sister that she obviously secretly envied, if not admired. Timmy played an easygoing middle-child, cleverly juggling his role of responsibility as the one only other "man of the house" with the conflicting role of unimportance being in the middle tends to lend to a person. Bobby was the soft-hearted but firm father. You could almost feel his tension when you looked at him, empathize with his struggles to hold his family together, knowing that he would someday have to do it all alone.
Finally, we come to April's mother, Joy. Whether Joy is an ironic name for her or not, I will leave for you viewers to decide. She comes across as jaded and sarcastic, with a sly sense of humor and a stubborn streak. Most of all though, she seems tired, the toll from her illness clear on her; the toll from her strained relationship with April, clearer still.
Then of course, there's April herself. She's fierce, independent, and loyal. It isn't hard to see why she could've gotten into trouble in the past, but it also isn't difficult to see how she probably got out of it.
This movie definitely has its funny moments, mostly stemming from the encounters with the characters that Apirl meets as she struggles to pull together her Thanksgiving dinner. Her family also has some adventures during their trip, starting (almost) with picking up April's partially senile grandmother from the nursing home.
Despite its simplicity- or maybe because of it- this film will tug at your heartstrings in a way that you don't expect. At least, it certainly did mine, partially because I could personally identify with having a strained relationship with my own mother, even if it was just for a time. I found myself close to tears during some moments, which is rare.
I think the message of the movie is, that love has power, that family is still family even when some of you don't fit in, some of you don't like each other too much, and some of you try too hard to be perfect, ultimately failing. Most fail, however, when they don't try at all. It all sounds trite and very cliché, but this film somehow delivers itself in a way that makes the message both memorable and believable. The cast had to carry so much and each member carried his/her share with significant grace.
Happy Thanksgiving to everybody- hopefully this movie will help you to remember what the season is supposed to be about.
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