Anita Casey-Reed

Let's be honest, the holiday season causes mixed emotions in most people.

You're happy to see your family, but being in close proximity reminds you of why you left home in the first place.

Add the pressure to produce and consume a feast that puts those Norman Rockwell paintings to shame and you can understand the nervousness of the characters approaching Thanksgiving in "Pieces of April" (rated PG-13).

This film actually came out a few years ago, but it's worth tracking down for several reasons.

First, as a reminder of when Katie Holmes was actually known for her ACTING instead of her personal life.

Second, to watch Patricia Clarkson in an Oscar-nominated performance that is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking.

Third, because the movie is a great reminder that all families have... some issues.

The visual style of the film is much closer to a documentary than to your usual Hollywood high-gloss movie.

This helps makes the situations feel much closer to home, as if we're catching real people in the midst of their lives.

Holmes plays the titular April - a young woman who has moved to a low-rent section of NYC.

The rest of the family, including her mother Joy (Clarkson), father Jim (Oliver Platt from "The Big C"), and younger siblings see her as a flaky goofball who always seems to screw things up.

April has invited the family to come see her apartment, meet her new live-in boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke), and eat a Thanksgiving dinner that April is preparing all by herself. Then a crucial piece of kitchen equipment malfunctions, requiring April to meet her eclectic set of neighbors and beg them for help.

Peter Hedges (the writer/director) sketches in everyone's perspectives through the conversations flying back and forth (both with the family traveling by car and with the neighbors attempting to cobble together the dinner), and uses them to convey how Joy's illness lends a sense of urgency to her need to connect with her oldest child.

Even with the high emotional stakes, there's plenty of humor in Clarkson's caustic appraisal of April's life to date and in Holmes' frantic attempts to persuade wary New Yorkers to assist her.

So, after the dishes have been washed and the last car has pulled out of the driveway, I recommend curling up with your favorite relaxing beverage and "Pieces of April".

You may find it makes you feel much better about your own holiday get-togethers, knowing that even the most chaotic of family days can still bring people good memories to cherish.

Anita Casey-Reed is a member of the Cinema 100 Film Society, a volunteer for the Dakota Digital Film Festival and co-host of "Reel Retro" on Dakota Media Access. She lives in Bismarck with her husband and two children.