The Films of Peter Hedges
Pieces of April (November 13/03)
Pieces of April is a typically quirky independent comedy, complete with Patricia Clarkson's presence among the cast. Though the film's ever-so-slight premise - a young woman anxiously prepares Thanksgiving dinner for her family - often threatens to collapse in on itself, Peter Hedges witty screenplay, combined with the enthusiasm of the performers, surely goes a long way towards keeping things afloat. However, there are far too many instances of eccentric behavior among the various characters - a factor that ultimately prevents the film from becoming entirely engrossing. The most obvious victim of this is Clarkson's Joy, a figure that's both terminally ill and quirky. Her conduct isn't believable in the slightest, and one suspects that Hedges expects us not to question it simply because she's got cancer. Still, Katie Holmes is surprisingly charismatic in the central role and Derek Luke (playing April's boyfriend) proves that his stellar work in Antwone Fisher was no fluke.
Dan in Real Life
Though suffused with a number of overtly positive elements (including an unexpectedly subtle performance from co-star Dane Cook), Dan in Real Life ultimately succumbs to an egregious emphasis on inauthentic elements - as filmmaker Peter Hedges' use of sitcom-level jokes and twists grows increasingly problematic as the movie progresses. Steve Carell stars as Dan Burns, a widowed father of three who travels to his family's countryside estate for an annual reunion/party. After encountering a beautiful woman (Juliette Binoche's Marie) at a local book store, Dan returns to the house certain he's met the love of his life - although, of course, it's eventually revealed that Marie is currently dating Dan's younger brother (Cook's Mitch). The predictable and downright trite atmosphere is, initially, fairly easy to overlook, with the presence of several familiar faces within the cast (including Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney, and Amy Ryan) and comfortably familiar nature of the story transforming the early part of Dan in Real Life into the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. Yet there eventually does reach a point at which the film's utter lack of subtlety becomes impossible to ignore, as Hedges peppers the proceedings with a number of eye-rolling plot developments (ie the absurd manner in which Dan's family discovers his crush on Marie). It's subsequently worth noting that the majority of the movie's characters rarely behave like real people, which - given the degree of artificiality within Hedges' screenplay - admittedly doesn't come as much of a surprise. And given Hedges' previous participation in such above-average efforts as What's Eating Gilbert Grape and About a Boy, there's little doubt that Dan in Real Life finally comes off as an undeniably disappointing piece of work.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green (July 21/12)
An unabashed fairy tale, The Odd Life of Timothy Green follows small-town couple Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim (Joel Edgerton) as they, after discovering that they can't have children naturally, bury a box in their backyard containing a list of all the traits their child would've ideally possessed. That same night, Cindy and Jim find themselves confronted by a young boy (CJ Adams' Timothy) covered in dirt and adorned with leaves on his legs - with the pair's decision to pass the kid off as their own kicking the movie's episodic storyline into gear. It's interesting to note that writer/director Peter Hedges essentially (and immediately) reveals the title character's ultimate fate in the movie's wraparound story, which revolves around Jim and Cindy's efforts at convincing a pair of skeptical bureaucrats (Shohreh Aghdashloo and Michael Arden) that they're qualified to adopt a child of their own. The ensuing lack of suspense is somewhat problematic, admittedly, yet there quickly reaches a point at which one is nevertheless drawn into the affable proceedings - with the movie's pervasively pleasant atmosphere heightened by an eclectic supporting cast that includes, among others, Ron Livingston, David Morse, James Rebhorn, and Common. It's just as clear, however, that Hedges' reliance on excessively deliberate pacing and seemingly needless subplots (eg Timothy's weird friendship with a local teen) prove instrumental in cultivating a vibe of subdued indifference, as it does become more and more difficult to work up any real enthusiasm for the characters' almost uniformly low-key exploits - which does, in turn, ensure that the tear-jerking finale isn't quite able to pack the emotional punch that Hedges has obviously intended. The end result is a watchable endeavor that's often more effective as an actor's showcase than as a fully-realized drama, with the film's mediocrity especially disappointing given the rather irresistible nature of its setup.