“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we’re going…This way we can show up, experience the disaster that is her life, smile through it, and before you know it we’re on our way back home.”
Joy (on going to Thanksgiving dinner at her daughter April’s apartment)
The inciting incident of Pieces of April—an oven not working on Thanksgiving morning—doesn’t happen until about 20 minutes into the film. So what does writer/director Peter Hedges do for the first 20 minutes of the film?
He does was Sylvester Stallone did in writing Rocky—Hedges set up the story and the characters. That way when the oven doesn’t work, it has maximum impact. (Just like Rocky being chosen to fight Apollo Creed toward the end of act 1.)
The major dramatic question in Pieces of April is,”Will April (Katie Holmes) find a way to cook a turkey dinner for her family?” At least that’s the external major dramatic question. Internally the major dramatic question is, “Will April, the prodigal child, reconnect and make amends with her mother suffering from cancer?”
So Hedges takes the first 15 minutes introducing each of the main characters and setting up the story. The following scene is less than 2 pages of the screenplay starting at the end of page 6.
It’s a nice bit of exposition between April and her boyfriend that sums up part of the backstory between April and her mother.
The scene starts out neutral and ends on a downbeat. And the audience knows a little bit more about April and her mother. It meets at least one of The Four Functions of Dialogue and has required conflict.
P.S. I don’t think the decision for April to cook Thanksgiving dinner in the first place is the inciting incident, because that happens off screen and before the movie starts. I believe an incident incident should ideally happen on screen, be dynamic, and significantly change the direction of the film. A lesser screenplay could have spent 15 minutes with April wrestling over asking her mother to come to Thanksgiving at her place, and a lot of hemming and hawing from her family on what do to do. But Pieces of April starts out midstream on Thanksgiving morning. And ends Thanksgiving afternoon. Having stories that take place on the same day (or at least in a 24 hour period is an indie secret to keeping wardrobe costs and simplify continuity issues.