© Central Film Verleih GmbH

Grace Is Gone
U.S.A. 2007

Opening 28 Aug 2008

Directed by: James C. Strouse
Writing credits: James C. Strouse
Principal actors: John Cusack, Emily Churchill, Rebecca Spence, Jennifer Tyler, Susan Messing

Our first sight of Stanley Phillips (John Cusack), walking to meet his staff at a Home Supply store to give them their perfunctory morning motivation push, tells us this man does what is right, expected, although he does not look all that happy. No wonder, since he holds down the home front while his sergeant wife is doing a tour in Iraq.

Stanley is responsible for the couple’s two lively daughters, 12-year-old Heidi (Shélan O’Keefe) and eight-year old Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk). Problem is, Stanley’s biggest difficulty is relating to his children. He is there, but emotionally not available and communicates with “yes / no” and “do / don’t” — tough for kids that age yearning for their mother.

One morning Stanley opens his front door to an Army captain and a chaplain who have come on behalf of the President. Rather than tell the girls immediately that their mother has died on duty, Stanley takes them on a road trip to Dawn’s chosen destination, Florida’s Enchanted Gardens Theme Park. A detour to Stanley’s hometown introduces us to his brother John Phillips (Alessandro Nivola). The girls are graced with a truism when John says to Heidi, “You have to be open for a truth different to your own; it’s a gut feeling.”

So, the truth about this movie? If you like tearjerkers with an underdeveloped storyline, see this film. Cussack, with the pigeon-toed walk, paunch, and quirky mannerisms is wonderful. O’Keefe and Bednarczyk are captivating with the scope of emotions they bring to their characters. Nivola is the brother we did not spend enough time with; his character could have bridged Stanley’s past and present, adding depth to the Stanley persona. Just as we get a glimpse of Stanley’s gut-wrenching pain, we jump back into the confines of the car, where we spend way too much time.

Perhaps James C. Strouse’s script would have been elevated from mawkish to meaningful had he not been thrust in to the director’s position when Rob Reiner dropped out during pre-production. Cinematographer Jean-Louise Bompoint’s “camera scheme” (camera positions, film coloring, etc.) was distracting and ineffectual, though to be fair he had Cusack and Strouse’s collaboration. Clint Eastwood’s music score was insipid at best, overused, too loud and only memorable in that it is so forgettable. I wanted to care that Grace Is Gone, but could not. (Marinell Haegelin)

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