Grace Is Gone (2007)
Upon hearing his wife was killed in the Iraq war, a father takes his two daughters on a road trip.
Stan Philipps's wife Grace is a sergeant with the U.S. Army. While she's posted to Iraq, the earnest Stan is home in Minnesota with their daughters, Heidi, 12, and Dawn, 8. He manages a home supply store. After morning visitors bring Stan news, he takes the girls for a car ride that turns into a spontaneous trip to Dawn's favorite place, a Florida amusement park. On the way, they stop at Stan's mother's house, where his brother is staying. Heidi is an insomniac, who tries to fathom her father's uncharacteristic behavior. Dawn is cheerfully unreflective. They have fun at the park. Stan summons his courage.
The contemplative, understated tearjerker Grace Is Gone dramatizes the quiet crisis that befalls Stanley (John Cusack), a young Midwestern husband of a female marine stationed in Iraq, and a father of two girls. Suddenly and unexpectedly widowed when his wife, Grace, is killed on the battlefield, Stanley cannot bring himself to share the devastating news with his two young daughters. In lieu of speaking to them immediately about their mother's death, Stanley internalizes his devastation and takes the girls on a road trip while he attempts to sort through a myriad of conflicted and tumultuous internal feelings about the war itself and contemplates how to break the shattering news. Inevitably, the road trip will end with Grace's funeral.
- This story begins with Stanley Phillips (John Cusack) sitting as the only man in a talking circle support group for spouses of military personnel deployed overseas. The next morning Stanley is notified that his soldier wife has died in Iraq, and he is initially stunned. He has no idea how to break this terrible news to the couple's two little girls. When they arrive home from their elementary school, they are surprised to find Stanley there already (he should still be at his sales clerk job). His elder daughter Heidi, 12 (Shelan O'Keefe) brings in a casserole someone from their close-knit community already has left on the Phillipses front steps, but Stanley forbids his daughters from eating it. Not yet willing to help them face the awful truth, Stanley realizes they must make tracks ASAP if he's to shield them from it for awhile. Piling them into the family SUV, he takes them to dinner at a local entertainment & kid's food complex, but yanks them back into the vehicle just minutes after the girls have settled into the arcade. Driving away from town, Stanley asks them what they'd like to do--if they could do anything--and younger daughter Dawn, 8 (Gracie Bednarczyk) blurts out "let's go to Enchanted Gardens" (=Cyprus Gardens, FL). Heidi objects that she has a homework report on her mom due the next day, but Stanley picks up on Dawn's whim and heads for Florida. After the girls are asleep, he stops at a rest area and leaves the first of several "updates" on his own home answering machine for his dead wife Grace (Katie Honaker), whose voice still greets callers. Over the next three days Stanley catches a nap in his boyhood home, and manages to prevent his anti-war brother John (Alessandro Nivola) from breaking the bad news to the girls. Heidi sneaks a call to her school another afternoon as Stanley is sleeping to arrange for the E-mailing of her homework, but the sympathetic school secretary assumes the girls are home grieving normally, and does not explicitly acknowledge Grace's death. As the Philips family trio finally enters Enchanted Gardens, Heidi seems to sense the truth. (After all, Stanley not only has taken a mysterious "sabbatical" from work, but he's also "turfed" a random farmer's field and allowed both girls to pierce their ears--though the family minimum age for this had been 13). Following a long day on the amusement rides, Stanley drives away with two tired girls, only to swerve off the highway onto the gulf beach a few miles away. Sitting them near the surf to watch the setting sun, he finally tells them their mother--Grace--is gone. Two quick final scenes show Heidi delivering her school report about Grace as her mother's eulogy in the church, and then the surviving family trio gathered in front of Grace Phillip's headstone in the cemetery.