Grace is Gone (2007)

When it comes to being ultimately depressing, this is the film.

Director James C. Strouse’s indie drama stars John Cusack as Stanley Phillips, an ex-military man trying to find the courage to break some devastating news to his two daughters: Their mother has died while serving in Iraq. As he works through his complex feelings about his wife’s death and the war, Stanley delays telling his girls the truth, instead taking them on an excursion to a theme park.

This is just one of those films I found late at night on HBO, I had nothing else to do, and I’m actually glad I chose to do nothing else.

The film works in many ways although it isn’t a great movie by any means. First, the stereotypes of war are taken down early in the film. Usually in war films like this, its the guy that’s sent off to war, but instead the woman is sent off, thus giving us a new fresh look at the effects of a family in grief.

Second, it succeeds in it’s ability to dramatically examine a politically sensitive issue (the Iraq war) from both conservative and liberal perspectives without alienating either. This is a very intense film which unfolds in a paradoxically low-key fashion throughout. And behind the arras subtly lurks a searing indictment of the numbing and emotional wasteland of middle class suburbia with malls, discount stores, and plastic hotels/motels, all of which form a pervasive and repetitive landscape in which the characters attempt to deal with matters of far greater depth.

And finally, the picture is genuinely heart-on-sleeve emotional and occasionally touching without pandering some sort of deeper message. It’s not overly entertaining but I don’t think it’s meant to be; a mechanically solid and capable movie, this will most appeal to those that can relate to either a death or prolonged absence due to the US/Iraq war.

But the problem I had with this film was that it was just so upsetting all the time. Barely, any happy things happened, and I was disappointed cause I would have liked to see a lot more heart than just sorrow. I think it was also very very simply made. The way it looks and feels is just very obvious and cliche. There is a scene where Cusack lets his daughter smoke and in all honesty I didn’t see any real point in this scene at all. There was also, a little random appearance by the guy playing Cusack’s brother, who just so happens to be the dead-beat, pot-smoking, bum brother, which I found very cliche and just overall stupid.

Cusack does very well here playing against type, however. There are a lot of scenes that call for the right emotion at the right time, and I think Cusack being very quiet and mannered, worked cause he does give that right emotion at that right time. His two daughters are played so realistically, and honestly that even though this is probably their only movie, I can’t wait to see them in more by how great they actually are.

Consensus: Emotionally in-tact, refreshing, and ultimately well-acted, Grace is Gone works well when showing the real effects of grief and healing, but is filmed too simplistic, with way too many random and obvious screen cliches.


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