19 August 2008
Grace is Gone, dir. James C. Strouse (2007)
John Cusack is one of those actors I think of as "reliable". It's a lame expression, I know, but in his case it really works. He rarely makes a bad movie. He's probably the reason I was ready to just outright buy that damn Martian Child movie without having seen it. Martians and John Cusack? How could you go wrong?
Well, this was another solid movie from him. He plays a guy who's wife dies while on duty in what one assumes is Iraq or Afghanistan. Unable to face the reality of losing his wife and breaking the news to his daughters, he decides to bundle them up and take them on a trip to an adventure playground in Florida. This means several days of driving, and so the movie is basically the series of adventures the family gets up to while on the road.
It's heartbreaking and sad, and John Cusack does so well that pulled-back-emotions thing. He looks ready to burst into tears right the way through this movie. I do have one gripe: I felt that as much as this was the dad's story, it was also the daughter's, in that 12-year-old Heidi seemed to know much more than she was letting on as the road trip progressed. She was fitting pieces together, and that seemed to parallel her developing maturity in other areas -- looking at boys, trying out smoking, wandering around by herself in the middle of the night to think. I thought her little discoveries were going to culminate in some sort of confrontation with Cusack, but that didn't happen and I think it ruined it a little bit for me -- what did her developing knowledge really mean in the end?
It was sweet and sad, and I did enjoy it.
The lack of confrontation is my main problem with this movie. I think it could have really been something great, but turned out to be rather middle-of-the-road on all accounts.
Grace dies in the war, see? Her husband, Cusack, a die-hard Republican, never waivers in his support of the war or the President, and that's okay. That's not my issue. Though, since Cusack himself has been vocal about his anti-war feelings, it did come as something of a surprise.
So Cusack doesn't know how to tell his daughters that their mom is dead. And here's our conflict. Okay so far. But come midpoint, this conflict should be reversed. Heidi should have figured out what was going by this point, but she did not. Instead, the reversal is Cusack and Heidi finally having a heart-to-heart about boys, life, smoking and whatnot. Erm... okay. But later, Cusack, speaking to Grace through their answering machine (one of the film's few interesting ideas), says that he doesn't know how to talk to these girls. Not how to tell them she's dead, specifically, but how to talk to them in general.
When he finally does tell them about Grace, it's very sad and very moving, but there's nothing about the war. Grace may as well have died in a plane crash or a car smash or a drive-by shooting for all the impact the war had on the movie. It's really kind of exploitative and demeaning to the soldiers.