Grace Is Gone (2007)
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The crux of the entire story laid on the premise of Stanley trying to find the appropriate moment to tell his children about the unfortunate demise of their mother, while at the same time fighting hard to accept the bitter truth that the woman he loves is gone. More so of course when it is revealed later some things that can no longer be reversed in time, which makes it all the more sad, and regrettable.
But we also learn more about Stanley through the eyes of his children, when they throw the occasional tantrum, or have issues to deal with. Shelan O'Keefe as Heidi the older daughter, is a remarkable actress, lending some gravitas to her role when it called for it, and holds her own opposite Cusack very well. Gracie Bednarczyk as younger daughter Dawn I guess was just being herself, injecting much needed effervescence to counter the heavy drama that circulates throughout the movie.
Besides some expected and really moving scenes in the movie, some from plot devices, while others from the characters themselves, writer-director James C. Strouse also managed to sneak in a comment or two about War and Truth, which is what we make it up to be, most of the time. Alessandro Nivola also turned in a rather short but nice performance behind that heavily bearded appearance as the brother of Stanley and the children's uncle.
If I need another plus point to recommend Grace is Gone, then it will be the score by Clint Eastwood (yes, what a surprise when the end credits rolled), punctuating the story neatly when it called for it. All in all, a story without any major plot twists (since the title already said it all), simple yet effective, and hinged very much on excellent acting to bring the characters to life.
Stanley Phillips is a dad taking care of his two daughters while their wife and mother, Grace, is in Iraq in the Army. When the news comes one day that Grace has been killed overseas, Stanley is left alone and clueless as to how to tell his daughters that their mother is not coming home. As a way of avoiding the conversation, Stanley takes the girls on a trip to Enchanted Gardens, an amusement park that looks similar to Disney World.
The plot, with Clint Eastwood's beautiful score and James Strouse's great writing and directing, brings the viewer a subtle and beautiful film. "Grace is Gone" definitely stays with the viewer.
This movie is a fitting tribute to the young Americans who fight and sometimes die for the country and for the families of those who wait for their return; when sometimes the waiting is in vain.
Whether the war is a just or unjust war or whether it's useless debacle, young men and women die whilst fulfilling what is, in their mind, their duty. The validity of the war detracts nothing from their heroism.
And, even more surprising, the film brings two unknowns to play alongside Cusack. The two are also very young girls who show that Dakota Fanning (CHARLOTTE'S WEB) isn't the only young gal who can act her heart out. Shélan O'Keefe stars as Heidi Phillips, Stanley Phillips' (Cusack's) eldest daughter and does so with astonishing ...um ...grace. Trying to find her way into adolescence while watching her father implode is quite nicely portrayed. Her first attempts at smoking and her nighttime wanderings are something many parents will be able to identify with.
Stanley's younger daughter Dawn is played by newcomer Gracie Bednarczyk, and her portions where she's jousting with her older sister are spot on. Not understanding what's happening to their family is significant in that someone of her age truly wouldn't know. But the suspicions of her elder sister set her on edge ...just a tad.
Grace is Gone is a very good war film. And by war I mean a film that focuses on its impact on the home-front. When Stanley (Cusack) learns of his wife's death in Iraq, it takes some mental juggling for him to come to terms with what that means for him and his two young daughters. This is the crux of the story. When Stanley can't release the information to his kids, he hides it by taking them to a fun theme park many miles away. It seems he wants his kids to have fun before breaking the worst news of their lives to them ...and, in a sense, re-breaking it to himself. Stanley loses sight of what he needs to do, and even becomes a bit delusional (he calls his own home to tell his dead-wife that he and the kids are okay, etc.).
The gut-wrenching scene when Stanley MUST tell the kids what happened to their mother is one of the hardest things any parent will ever have to watch. The musical score comes up over the voice of Stanley and we don't get to hear everything he says, which we don't need to; we can see it on the children's' faces. A truly powerful moment that will linger with you for many days, if not weeks.
It is noteworthy to mention how topical this film is since the war in Iraq seems far from over. Men and women continue to die "over there" and when that might end is anyone's guess. But one thing is for certain, the traumas felt "over there" definitely ripple "over to here". And that's something that this film shows us exceptionally well.
Spoiler One scene I loved was where John's character called the home phone from the pay phone at the gas station. I just couldn't imagine the feeling of having to talk to an answering machine because that is the only way you could hear your dead wife's voice and to look to that recording for guidance because you have no where else to go, have no idea what to do....was just amazing and it actually made me tear up.
Definitely worth checking out.
great incidental music makes this a tearfest. symbolism make the message clear. great acting makes you care. you heard it here first (flicz-11/07/07): john cusack will win "best actor" for this hands down.
i hadn't seen john cusack in a movie before, but he does a great job in a role that is extremely difficult. i don't think most actors could even attempt to play it.
the movie is not heavy handed or overtly judgemental.
not a good date movie. adult oriented. very sad.
To deal with the loss of partner is heart breaking but to have to inform his two daughters seems presently unthinkable. Cusack decides he needs time to console and takes the girls off on a road trip to Florida. As they drive through suburb after suburb you cant help but notice their grid like environment, consisting of brand name stores & lifeless roadside diners churning out the same conventional foods.
Grace is Gone unfolds in such a refreshingly organic way and is nicely produced to capture a world so routine, so grey and so convincing. Within this encapsulation, we have a mixture of tender / thoughtful moments sparked by unselfish actions, and of course the moment Cusack communicates the awful truth to his daughters. The key roles are obviously granted to Cusack and the girls, with only a small supporting cast, everything is well delivered and full of purpose. However, the joy of this film is not in the theme itself, but in the simplicity of it's presentation and the sense of realism, which feels as true as life itself.
Grace is Gone is by no means a classic, however it did make me think, and it did leave me touched unlike any other film from the Iraq genre. It is for these reason's that I recommend this film.
Grace is Gone stars John Cusack as a husband whose wife has just been killed in Iraq. He doesn't have the courage to tell his two young daughters that their mother has died, so instead he decides to take them on a road trip, perhaps not to just make it easier on the girls but to make it easier for himself.
This film was pretty good but I felt it was flat at parts and some tears were forced. It didn't have as much emotion as I thought it would have. John Cusack does a great job acting in the film, but most of the time his character is just trying to hide the sadness from his daughters. Some scenes drag on and others don't seem to really fit in with the rest of the story.
My favorite scene in the film takes place in a store and involves the younger daughter wandering off on her own. The scene is so subtle and the drama isn't as obvious as other parts in the film, but it's quite an emotional scene. I wish the rest of the film had moments like that.
Politics aren't really discussed much in the film, at least not as much as I thought there was going to be. However, when it does, it goes with the typical cliché of family members differing in beliefs and trying to get their own point across. People will probably be interested in this film because of the subject matter and the modern storyline, but apart from the cause of death of the wife, the war is never really mentioned. In a way, that's why this film doesn't work at times. Apart from the one scene with his anti-war brother, Cusack's character never gets a chance to express his emotions and regrets because he's always with his children.
Nonetheless, as a film about a father trying to reveal to his children the death of their mother, it's a good film. But if you're seeing the film because it involves the war in Iraq, you'll be disappointed because the war is hardly mentioned.
We're never given any real indication of what's going on in Stanley's head. At one point, his hippie dropout brother (Stanley is a conservative war supporter) provides some helpful exposition about Cusack and his late wife, but the writer/director never seems to have heard of the "show, don't tell" rule. The only concrete demonstrations of Stanley's distress we ever get are a series of shots of him staring into space. We never find out if Stanley's political beliefs have been challenged (or strengthened) by his experience, or whether his belief that his wife died fighting a just cause made it any easier (or harder) to cope with his loss.
In fact, the movie seems to have decided to portray Stanley's emotional confusion by not having him express any emotion at all, and the only insight we gather is that it's really, really, really, really, really hard to tell your children that their mother has died.
And in the end, any tears generated are not due to any particular skill in writing or directing, but simply because of the audience's reaction to how horrible it is for ANY parent to have to tell their young children that their other parent has died. To me, that's a cheat; the movie doesn't provide any sort of insight into Stanley's feelings and relies on the audience to provide all the emotion.
Cusack supplies a fine performance with the limited material he's been given (as do the two daughters), but this movie doesn't supply much else besides cheap tears. Watch for it to become a monster hit and pick up a basket of Oscar nominations.
For my complete review of this movie and for other movie and book reviews, please visit my site TheCoffeeCoaster.com.
Brian Wright Copyright 2008
The youngest girl and their mom have their watches set to beep at the same time each day, and both of them take a moment to think about the other.
Worst fears come true when the military guys show up at their home, to tell him that Grace has been killed, she will not come home alive. Struck with grief and totally unprepared to accept it himself, and even less prepared to tell his daughters.
So he decides to take a road trip to a theme park in Florida. Eventually he learns to accept the truth, and to talk to his daughters.
Good movie. It really is about how the surviving spouse, in this case the husband, might cope with such a tragic loss.
Cusack is remarkable especially in the early scenes where we see him as a manager of a big-box home supplies store, plodding, bespectacled, ordinary: even his walk bespeaks disappointment and lowered expectations. He had lousy eyesight but cheated to get into the Army because he wanted so badly to serve. Later his deception was discovered and he was expelled, but in basic training he met his wife Grace, who has been sent to Iraq, leaving Stanley behind with the girls. He's grumpy with them, bossy in a way that might work better for a couple of boys, but mostly reflecting a depression and guilt he can't admit to. He pretends everything is okay, but in the opening he is awkwardly attending a military wives' support for women in his place, left behind while their spouses are in harm's way in the Middle East.
He can't speak, even then. When the two soldiers come to the door with the bad news, he at first won't let them in. And he refuses their help and just sits.
It goes on like that. Stanley takes the girls out of school, avoiding his job, driving to Enchanted Gardens in Florida. It's a long detour around the elephant in the room. For the audience it's an increasingly painful and tedious wait, suspense over a moment that will only be the beginning of the real story of coping with grief (such as was depicted, for instance, in Nanni Moretti's film The Son's Room).
On the way south Stanley detours to visit their grandmother's house, and instead finds his younger brother, John (Alexander Nivola), a bearded, smoking, unemployed high school dropout working on his GRE and thinking of law or medical school. John is an angry and honest 32-year-old who provokes a political conflict. He calls Bush "your monkey President" and shows himself to be violently opposed to the Iraq war. Stanley insists it is noble to serve. He will not hear of anything else and stifles the girls when John asks their opinion. Is the movie saying one reason for Stanley's implosion is that what's happened calls all his patriotism into question, and that his non-communication with the girls comes from his rigid politics? Heidi also is a doubter, or a worrier. It emerges that she has not been sleeping at night. When she calls school to tell them they're away, she meets understanding and pity. The subtlety of first director Strause's screenplay is the delicacy with which he hints at the suspicions of the older girl, and perhaps of the younger girl as well. Before the moment of truth arrives, it's more and more clear that nobody thinks anything is okay.
Grace Is Gone is a sensitive movie but it goes weak in key places. Strause cuts the sound in the revelatory scene just when Stanley gets to the hardest part of telling the girls the truth. The film in effect cops out just the way the father has been doing all along. In the end the film turns into a Hallmark card. We and the accomplished cast deserved better.
This honest slice of military family life elevates JC out of those mindless, cutesy romantic/comedy roles, thank god. He's almost unrecognizable as the middle-age man trapped inside anyone's worst nightmare. A combat death in the family robs his daughters of their childhood innocence and he's not emotionally equipped to process it. Alessandro Nivola, Shelan O'Keefe and Gracie Bednarczyk are a fantastic supporting cast. First time director James C. Strouse wrote the screenplay with Cusack in mind. Clint Eastwood was convinced by John Cusack, who also produced, to score the film. Thanks John, many illustrious awards shall be placed at your feet.
This is the official movie URL http://www.graceisgone-themovie.com/
John Cusack delivers one of his finest restrained performances. Shélan O'Keefe and Gracie Bednarczyk are superb as the two daughters who are respectively confused and unaware and growing up. Alessandro Nivola does a fine job in a brief role as Stanley's brother (who shares the opposite viewpoint on politics).
I liked that here there wasn't a lot of focus on the landscape (not that would have minded that) because Strouse stays focused on the three key characters. Like most road movies, this one too is mainly about searching and discovering but what they find in the end is grace.
My review is going to be well thought out, but it wont do justice to this movie, my review is an attempt to get to this movies heart, which is a terrible loss to a husband and father, who has just been told tragic news.
Shelan O'Keefe, John Cusack, and Gracie Bednarczyk, deserve equal Oscars for their power house performances in this excellent but very sad movie.
This film's premise is simple. John Cusack's wife is killed on duty in the Middle East, but he cannot tell his daughters.
So on hearing this news from two high ranking solders on his front door, he takes his two little girls of on a road trip to have fun, he tells them.
And this they do, including a trip to a fair ground, and a couple of department stores.
There are several very poignant moments in this film,which tell us about the loving relationship he has with his two little children.
There is a scene where he rings from an outside line, his own home answer phone, to hear his wife calling home, and then he asks his wife what he should do about telling his children the sad news ? At the end of the film, he drives to a secluded beach and delivers the tragic news as best he can, it is then that his two little girls react in uncontrollable tears, as you will too.
A first rate gentle movie. 10 stars easily. More if I could.
The best commentary on Cusack's acting is the small exchange in the car, when Heidi asked why their mom went to war. She asked why TV news say it's all a lie. Stanley says that they need faith, belief, and if they don't, then they've lost.
First, even now, TV news don't say it's a lie. Commentators, late at night, yes; but not TV news.
Second, ever see, on TV news, of North Koreans standing in a field affirming their faith in their Great Leader? Their country is falling apart, yet they truly believe in their leader. I guess that's what Stanley wants Americans to be: full of faith and belief in their leader, because if not then you're lost. Never mind the facts, never mind the truth, just believe.
Cusack, as far as I know, is not a radical right-winger. So apparently Cusack wants to show us what kind of people are the war-enablers. Almost a throwaway scene, yet crucial in telling us the kind of person Stanley is.