Oscar-nominated screenwriter Peter Hedges knows from film families both dysfunctional (see ''What's Eating Gilbert Grape'') and nontraditional (check out ''About a Boy''). But it took the real-life death of his mother to tap the very personal vein that runs to the heart of ''April,'' his directorial debut.
A nonconformist who's been estranged from her folks for years, April Burns (Katie Holmes) extends an olive branch and invites the brood -- which includes her seriously ill mom (Patricia Clarkson) -- to her grubby New York flat for Thanksgiving dinner. Problem is, her stove's stopped working, and she's racing against time to whip up the all-important meal. ''There are very few topics where I can imagine that you might not find humor,'' says Hedges. ''And I was stunned at how much weird and dark humor there was when my mom died. Some of the stuff that went on...!''
Such surrealism infects the character study, a Sundance favorite (purchased by UA for $3.5 million) that Hedges aimed to make touching, not touchy-feely. ''Maudlin scenes where people pour their heart out to one another? I don't want to see it,'' he says. ''This movie is about how we're running out of time, and I wrote it so that those who see it will be influenced to go out into the world and have important conversations with the people they love.''
The Killer Moment Clarkson tokes up and drops foulmouthed wisdom at a roadside rest room with her son.