Grace is Gone, is a quirky, humane, and minimalist film that aims to pull on heart strings from beginning to end, and wholeheartedly succeeds. Stanley Phillips (John Cusack) was rejected from joining the army due to poor eyesight, but not before meeting his future wife, Grace (Dana Lynne Gilhooley). Stanley looks after their two children, 12-year-old Heidi (Shelan O’Keefe) and 8-year-old Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk) whilst juggling a full-time job as a home-supply store manager. The narrative of Grace is Gone is set in to motion with a knock at the door of the Phillips’ home, Stanley opens the door to an Army Captain and Chaplain who are prepared to give the dreaded news of Grace being killed in combat. Stanley reacts as any human would, with numbed shock. His daughters are at school which gives him the day to decide how to tell them that their mom won’t be coming home.
It’s incredibly hard to not like John Cusack, his portrayal of Stanley Phillips gives his performance in Being John Malkovich (1999) a run for its money. Stanley comes across as genuine, human, kind, but also a slightly broken man, even before learning of his wife’s death. You can tell that there’s just something not quite right about him, Cusack makes it easy to look into his eyes as Stanley and show the audience that this man is deeply troubled. With a simplistic plot and not many characters to attach to, the film puts entire faith on Cusack’s performance, and he most definitely delivers.
Grace is Gone turns into what can be best described as, a road trip film. Stanley can’t bring himself to inform his daughters about their mother’s passing, so instead spontaneously takes them out of school and to enchanted gardens. But of course, it wouldn’t be a road trip film without some stops along the way. Ultimately, you’ll be asking yourself throughout the duration of the film “when is he going to tell them?”, it’s clear that that’s what all of this is leading up to.
The cinematography is nothing ground-breaking, there’s no extended shots that will make the audience uncomfortable, or any angles that will make you feel any different about the film. As for the colour palette, 80% of the time there’s a sepia undertone to the scenes, and the other 20% is very blue. The screen often seems faded and lacks any life, but it works beautifully.
This is a character-based film, which means it can often be seen as “slow”, but it’s deliberate. The slow moments of Grace is Gone is what makes the story feel real, raw, and emotional. It is important to be patient and commit to the characters. However, it is understandable to feel that the story is being dragged out longer than necessary. The political back and forth between Stanley and his brother is a side story that feels unnecessary to the plot.
It’s hard to not have a political element to the film, considering the topic. But Grace is Gone is not about the war, it’s not even about Grace, or the way in which Stanley is going to break the news to his children. It’s the story of how Stanley deals with something so unexpected, and his back and forth political arguments prove that he is filled with guilt. Stanley believes it should have been him on the front line, not Grace. Regardless of what message you take away from this film, whether it be about war, death, or anything else, it is ultimately about Stanley, and Cusack’s performance alone is enough to see this film.