I went to see Grace Is Gone with someone who loves sad movies. As we were leaving the theater, he said that it was one of the saddest movies hed ever seen. From someone who watches Beaches whenever its on TV, thats quite the statement.
Grace Is Gone is the story of Stanley Philipps (John Cusack) and his two daughters, 12-year-old Heidi (Shelan OKeefe) and 8-year-old Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk). The Philipps family lives an ordinary middle-class life in Minnesota. Stanley works as a manager in a Costco-type of store and does his best to raise his daughters while his wife does her tour of duty in Iraq. Stanleys parenting skills leave something to be desired, but he has a good heart.
Within the first ten minutes of the film, Army officials visit Stanley at home to inform him that his wife has been killed in battle. Stanley is devastated, but, like many men, he bottles up his emotions. Cusack brings none of his typical charm to this film as he portrays a downtrodden man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Even more difficult than losing his wife is the fact that Stanley has to inform the girls of her death. So he puts it off for as long as possible and decides to take them on a road trip to Florida to go to a Busch Gardens-esque amusement park. He wants them to have some fun before they receive the heartbreaking news.
If youre looking for an action-packed film, this is not it. Its a bit slow-moving, as you might expect from a movie about driving from one edge of the country to another. But the characters are so likable that I didnt mind. Plus, I was glad that the movie was as short as it was because it was a lot of effort to hold back my tears for an hour and 20 minutes.
I expected Grace Is Gone to be more political than it was. It's a story about a family torn apart by war, but it rarely addresses the war itself. We see Heidi watching the news in an early scene, and later, we see her watching a speech by Donald Rumsfeld on TV. But mainly, it focuses on father-daughter bonding and loss. John Cusask is a well-known Democrat (I ran into him at an Obama benefit during the 2004 Democratic National Convention) and Clint Eastwood, who composed the beautiful score for this film, has spoken out against the war in Iraq. However, the movie avoids politics for the most part and just focuses on the struggles of a widower raising his two children.
During one sequence, Stanley goes to visit his mother and unexpectedly runs into his younger brother, John (Allessandro Nivola), who is sleeping on the couch. John is a liberal and is against the war, but the film does not portray him as necessarily right. Like a lot of liberals, he talks a good game but doesnt actually take action. Hes living at home and contemplating going back to school for either medicine or law. He cant even get up enough energy to shave. Reminds me of a lot of kids I went to college with...
The acting in Grace Is Gone is so incredible that I often forgot that I was watching actors on the screen and not real people. Cusack takes on the role with his whole being, and the little girls seemed true-to-life, as well. The script is mercifully subtle. Often movies about death featuring children can be melodramatic and cheesy with the kids saying ridiculous things. But Grace Is Gone felt real.
Grace Is Gone was a box-office flop, but its probably just as well. Youre much better off watching it at home on your own couch so you can sob. And, believe me, you will.
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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