Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Grace is Gone

This is one of the saddest movies I've seen in a long time. I'll be the first to admit that it's also one of the sappiest and cheesiest. It came and went under the radar in late 2007. I had been excited about it (as it was on my top 20 for the rest of the year entry last September). I forgot about it, however, due to poor marketing, and its extremely limited release of 7 theaters. The movie deals with the difficult situation military families are put in. As opposed to the other recent Iraqi War movie, Stop Loss, which presented a gritty soldier's point of view, Grace is Gone focused entirely on those left behind.

The movie revolves around Stanley Phillips (John Cusack), who's wife, Grace is fighting in Iraq. Near the beginning of the movie, the inevitable knock on his front door comes, notifying him that Grace has been killed. He not only has to cope with this news, he also has to break it to his two young daughters Heidi (Shélan O'Keefe) and Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk), who appeared to be 13 and 8 respectively. The problem is only compounded by his inability to communicate with them (seriously, what father knows what to say to a pre-teen girl?) Stanley handles this issue the only way he knows, by not telling them. Instead, he takes them on a road-trip to an amusement park, while he tries to sot through his own emotions before telling the girls.

John Cusack is one of my favorites. Last year alone he wowed in the one-man thriller 1408, and was one the only saving graces in Martian Child. This time, however, he wasn't dragged down by his child co-stars. Both O'Keefe and Bednarczyk were wonderful. Heidi's muted enthusiasm, and guarded emotions reflect a young teenager going through those changes. Her character is every bit as complex as Stanley. She struggles with trusting her emotionally distant father, while knowing that something is wrong. Dawn, on the other hand, displays the unrestrained emotions common with a young girl.

There's nothing surprising about this movie. It turns up the emotion from the support group opening all the way to the silent musical ending. Stanley is a character that you will most certainly not agree with. His brother (Alessandro Nivola) sums it up concisely in one scene when he says "You're going to screw up those girls," when he hears about Stanley's amusement park plan. As much as we may not like him for keeping this from his daughters throughout the movie, we can at least appreciate the difficulty he's going through.

Some of the best scenes are Stanley alone, talking to his answering machine just to hear Grace's voice. These are when he finally lets his guard down and is at his most vulnerable. What is nice about this movie is that it doesn't have the obvious anti-war undertones that could so easily pushed. Stanley is never angry about what happened, possibly because of the almost too convenient fact that he was a former soldier himself.

As I've tried to make clear, the movie was rather cheesy, and fairly obvious- but somehow that really worked. They didn't try to be anything deeper than a simple emotional journey of a grieving husband. I would compare it to Love Story. It's a movie that oozes sap, but I challenge you to watch it without getting teared up.


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