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With: John Cusack, Shélan O'Keefe, Gracie Bednarczyk, Alessandro Nivola
Written by: James C. Strouse
Directed by: James C. Strouse
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, brief strong language and teen smoking
Running Time: 85
Date: 01/21/2007

Grace Is Gone (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Road Teary

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Yet another in an onslaught of "message" films, Grace Is Gone isn't nearly as bad as it looks. John Cusack may have hoped for an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a man whose wife dies in the Iraq War, and frankly, he deserved one. From the movie's opening shot, it's clear that he has developed an entirely physical performance of a soul-dead man barely able to get up the confidence or energy to walk across the floor. And yet he's not a turn-off; he's still appealingly human. Stanley Philipps (Cusack) dreamed of being a military man and lied on his eye exam to get into the army, where he met his wife. But when his ruse was discovered, he was discharged and left to take care of his two girls, twelve year-old Heidi (Shélan O'Keefe) and eight year-old Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk). The movie puts forth this information in passing and concentrates almost exclusively on Stanley and the girls; we never see Grace except in a photograph. Stanley gets the news of his wife's death but can't bring himself to tell his daughters. Instead, he spontaneously drives them all cross-country to a Florida theme park, Enchanted Gardens. But though Grace Is Gone turns into a road movie, it eschews most road movie clichés, keeping the cutesy peripheral characters to a minimum. The only other major character that turns up is Stanley's left-wing brother John (Alessandro Nivola), which creates an interesting and uncomfortable rift between liberal and conservative ideals. "We disagree, but that doesn't mean we don't like each other," he says (with some uncertainty) to his nieces. The girls, especially Heidi, suspect that something is up, but can't quite make out what it is. O' Keefe has a lovely intelligence that perfectly counter-balances Cusack's surface ploy. Writer/director James C. Strouse (screenwriter on Lonesome Jim) gives the movie an industrial sparseness, which only increases its intimacy. Every so often a cutesy moment, like spinning brodies in the mud, upsets the balance, but it's an overall admirable film. Clint Eastwood provides the gentle, piano score. And Marisa Tomei has a mysterious cameo (in long shot) as a woman sitting by a swimming pool.

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