Grace is Gone

Very, very funny. I was surprised; the plot centers on a sad-sack Stanley (John Cusack, shoulders appropriately slumped throughout) with two daughters and a soldier-in-Iraq wife. Wife dies, husband frets over what to do, unsure how to break the news to his kids let alone how to grapple with his own grief and shame, and decides to take the kids to Enchanted Gardens. It’s like National Lampoon’s Mourning Vacation. Or maybe Little Miss Cloud Cover.

Okay, I kid. This movie made me cry, from sheer boredom. I should be polite, because intentions are so pure, so noble, so right-minded. But good lord what a drain. Call me insensitive (and if you do I’ll cry again), but Grace couldn’t be goned quickly enough for me. As Kris pointed out to me while watching, the whole film is one big long interrogation of Stanley’s inability to surface his emotions, and when we finally get the grief money-shot, the big moment of revelation and mourning with the daughters, the hammer-to-the-forehead-soulful soundtrack kicks up and we see the actors pantomime the scene — the moment of disclosure is literally repressed. I would love to see that as irony, but I doubt it.

7 thoughts on “Grace is Gone

  1. irony is in the eye of the beholder, mike. go all out!

    i had to reread the first paragraph. i thought i had gone psychotic. thank goodness for the second paragraph! the summer slump must be pretty bad if you feel like posting about grace is gone! bwaaaahaahahahah.

    since we are talking about parents dealing singly with kids (and no, i have not seen grace) i’ll register my greatly renewed appreciation for kramer vs. kramer, which i just saw again because it was suggested to watchers of tootsie by the thoughtful watch-instantly folks (i watched tootsie as a homage to sydney pollack).

    so, i’m watching KvsK and i’m thinking, wow. this is actually a movie about parenting. not a movie about men dealing with their masculinity or the new burden of sole parenthood or even fatherhood. not about men juggling work and family. not about men juggling kids and relationships. no, it’s a movie about parenting. a large number of scenes are simply parenting scenes. the hoffman character deals with parenting dilemmas, like: how to discipline a distraught child who acts cussed because life sucks; how to have fun with such child in a way that pleases both parent and child; how to encourage and support the child; how to do one’s things while being there for the child; how to deal with a child’s grief without either belittling it or burdening the child with our own worry and grief; how to explain difficult things to a child; how to deal with one’s own frustrations and needs while respecting the child as a person; etc. etc.

    i was impressed. and i was very impressed by the relative unsentimentality of a film that is focused on parental and spousal loss. the characters are all treated with great dignity. mostly, though, i was fascinated by the fact that hoffman’s masculinity is never at issue here. even when he assumes clearly maternal roles (he’s the only father at the playground; he explicitly talks about “the other mothers” — really funny), his masculinity is not addressed by the film. you have to work out the implications for yourself. which, in an american movie, is remarkable, because american movies have to spell everything out. this was, as followers of my comments will remember, my main criticism of the savages. american cinema acts patronizingly towards the viewer in a way that i find almost entirely absent in any other cinema (but especially in central asia cinema).

    so, seeing KvsK and tootsie back to back is indeed quite a treat for someone like me — if you see what i mean.

  2. Well, really, if you think about it, neither is Hoffman’s masculinity ever put in question in Tootsie. He really takes to the female role, with all his comments about clothes, etc., but, despite a few digs from Bill Murray and Sydney Pollack characters, the issue of his red-bloodedness never arises (so to speak).

  3. Nice reading, G–and I think Simon’s right about Hoffman in Tootsie, too. Those are both good films.

    I like the point about parenting. In Grace‘s favor, Stanley’s masculinity is very rarely central, and it is not the stopping point for his engagement with his daughters. In fact, the film is rather nuanced about his shame (at his wife going to war, when he can’t), his unexcited engagement in “masculine” acts (like a pre-opening salesperson meeting that ends in a chant meant to fire them up), his get-on-the-floor empathy with his daughters’ emotional states. And if you contrast this film’s approach to “dads,” masculinity, and Iraq with Elah, I think Grace actually has far more intelligent premises… even if, in execution, it pretty much fails to flesh them out. Stanley really doesn’t have to learn how to be a dad, nor is he unlearning how to be a man. He’s just terribly, terribly sad.

    In fact, I think what pissed me off about the film is that there’s a very good movie buried in there. Cusack’s certainly capable, and he puts in a good–if too determinedly “good”–performance. The child actors were up to the task. It’s just awash in its own soggy nobility.

  4. see, on the other hand, will smith in the pursuit of happyness and you will have sogginess, over-explication, and The American Dream nicely packaged in a film that is as glossy as a mass produced pink-frosted muffin.

  5. “unfair” I should say rather than “incorrect.” For one thing I think we are wrongly comparing popular Hollywood films against art films from other nations–we do not, I think, see films that are representative of other nations, at least in terms of popularity and convention.

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