Studio: UA (released Oct. 17)
Storyline: A family in which the mother (Patricia Clarkson) is dying of cancer embarks on a Thanksgiving journey from the suburbs to the N.Y. tenement apartment of ne’er-do-well daughter April (Katie Holmes), who, with a broken oven and no culinary skills, is having big trouble just making a meal.
About the script: In a deftly crafted screenplay that cross-cuts between April and her relatives on the road, this small but potent story memorably presents a modern family whose bonds are as sturdy as they are frayed. Through the ritual of Thanksgiving, it offers a ragged but inspiring vision of multicultural America. “I heard about a group of young people who went to cook a turkey and their oven didn’t work, and they had to go around the building trying to borrow an oven,” says Hedges. “It seemed like a great jumping-off point for a movie — an organic way to throw people together.”
“At the same time, we learned my mother had cancer. As she got sicker, I was aware of how hard we all worked to create moments of grace. We were trying to make memories.”
Biggest challenge: “I didn’t feel like writing, but she was adamant that we go on with our lives and work. I was trying to make something out of something untenable, which was her death. What took my breath away was when I realized the reason April was cooking the meal was because her mother has cancer.”
Breakthrough idea: “After I’d done a first draft, I saw I’d made a big mistake with Joy (Patricia Clarkson, as the mother). I’d made her this wise, loving being, and the script felt cloying. I realized that actually, if anyone has permission to say or do whatever she feels like doing, it’s this character. And I realized that she and April are the same girl, and that’s their problem.”
Favorite scene: When Joy leaps out of the car and tries to abandon the whole journey, leading to a yelling match between her and Jim (the father, Oliver Platt), and some of the film’s best and most revealing lines of dialogue. “That was a late rewrite. My script supervisor pointed out that I had 15 scenes in a moving car. I came up with a way to break it up. That scene is a great example of why one should just keep rewriting.”
Lines we love: Joy, as she savors a Krispy Kreme doughnut: “Now tell me — how could anyone not believe in God?”
Writer’s bio: Peter Hedges is also a playwright and novelist. He adapted his first novel, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” for director Lasse Hallstrom. His other adaptations include “About a Boy,” Oscar-nominated for adapted screenplay.