Grace Is Gone tells the story of conservative patriot Stanley (John Cusack), who upon learning that his soldier wife has died in Iraq, doesn’t tell his two daughters the horrific news but, instead, takes them on a cross-country drive from Minnesota to Florida’s Enchanted Gardens amusement park, a journey that eventually disillusions him about his pro-war beliefs. In other words, it’s the Paul Haggis version of National Lampoon’s Vacation, though a whole lot less amusing than that description might imply. James C. Strouse’s earnest directorial debut functions similarly to In the Valley of Elah, what with Stanley’s away-from-home experiences opening his eyes to the fact that, jingoistic adages be damned, his family has been irrevocably torn apart for no good reason. Yet whereas Haggis at least attempted to mask his didacticism with a murder-mystery, Strouse barely tries enlivening his one-note material with spirited or wrenching drama, his limp and sketchy narrative adding up to little more than a few pit stops at motels, a couple of skimpy debates over the war, and a handful of endearingly natural interactions between its pint-sized characters, 12-year-old Heidi (Shélan O’Keefe) and 9-year-old Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk). Stanley embarks on this trek out of confusion and shock, two sentiments that the film elicits as it piles on go-nowhere scenes in which the new widower—superficially embodied by Cusack via ugly glasses, messy hair, and a slumped-shoulder gait—quietly scrunches his face to suppress grief, and Heidi looks at him suspiciously or takes strolls in the middle of the night because of anxiety-fostered insomnia. At different points in time, Stanley momentarily loses track of each kid, incidents intended to convey the trickle-down effect of the war, which, Strouse’s tale metaphorically preaches, not only takes our loved ones but also our family stability, our sense of security, and our heart. However, Grace Is Gone seems so clueless about how to devise a compelling third act—or how to poignantly stage Stanley’s climactic confession to his girls about their mother, which culminates with the trio posing (as if for a camera) on a beach at sunset while a piano tinkles mournfully—that these “where’d my child go?!?” scenes, like most everything else about the film, come off as merely a screenwriter’s desperate, manipulative attempts to generate emotional tension.
- The Weinstein Company
- 94 min
- James C. Strouse
- James C. Strouse
- John Cusack, Shélan O'Keefe, Gracie Bednarczyk, Alessandro Nivola
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