Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Sue Brooks
Stars: Richard Roxburgh, Radha Mitchell, Odessa Young, Terry Norris, Kenya Pearson, Harry Richardson, Myles Pollard, Tasma Walton.
Looking For Grace is the fifth feature film from award winning Australian filmmaker Sue Brooks (the cross cultural romance of Japanese Story, The Road To Nhill, etc). It’s been six years since her last film (2009’s Subdivision), and like her previous works it deals with a journey of discovery, is set in a remote location, and explores themes of loneliness, family, friendship.
This quirky comedy/drama tells the story of a family in crisis. It begins when 16-year old Grace (played by newcomer and rising young star Odessa Young) steals some money from her father’s safe and, with her best friend Sappho (newcomer Kenya Pearson) in tow, heads off on a journey to see her favourite band Death Dogs play a gig in a town some 200kms away. During the bus journey she meets the handsome and charismatic Jamie (another newcomer Harry Richardson), who seduces her and makes off with her money in a scenario that will remind many of the classic Thelma And Louise.
Sappho heads home, leaving Grace to make her own way through this flat inhospitable terrain. But just as we think we know where the film is headed, her anxious parents Dan and Denise (Rake‘s Richard Roxburgh and Radha Mitchell) turn up in the family car.
Dan and Denise are a quirky bored suburban couple who are harbouring their own secrets as well, and their relationship is tempered by suspicion and tension that comes to a head during the search for their wayward daughter. At first Dan fails to answer his phone when a panicked Denise tries to alert him to Grace’s absence. They hire a veteran detective (played by veteran Terry Norris) to find her, but it is a decision that has tragic repercussions.
Brooks got the idea for the film when she read a newspaper article that described two girls running away from home in similar circumstances. She has used that idea for the starting point for a film that looks at dysfunctional families, rebellious teenagers,
The clever title has a double meaning – it refers to the character of the missing Grace itself, but it also refers to the need of her dysfunctional family to heal itself and find some peace and heal their psychological wounds.
The film unfolds in fractured time juggling narrative style, where we get to see separate stories from various characters, and we see the same events from different perspectives as Brooks slowly peels back hidden layers. Each character is introduced by an appropriate chapter heading, but their stories vary in length and quality. Brooks has always been fascinated by this style of story telling but here the device doesn’t help the flow of the narrative. Brooks’ meandering style here means that there is a lack of urgency and the film seems in no real hurry to go anywhere of interest. There are also several moments of awkward silence, and some of the dialogue seems unnatural and stilted.
Some of the early action takes place in the wide open spaces and wheat belts of Western Australia, which have been lovingly photographed. The film certainly looks good on the big screen thanks largely to the widescreen lensing from cinematographer Katie Milwright (who also shot the recent Sucker). Milwright adopts an old fashioned style as the camera often remains static. Elizabeth Drake’s melancholy score has an almost ominous quality at times.
One of the problems with the film is that the elusive nature of the screenplay means that we don’t really get much insight into the characters.
However, Brooks has assembled a strong ensemble cast. Young stamps herself as an exciting young talent to watch with her engaging performance here. Mitchell has established a solid career for herself in Hollywood, but has returned home for this low budget drama. Roxburgh is actually quite funny here as the husband wracked with guilt and unsure of what to do in this unfamiliar situation. Mitchell and Roxburgh establish a good chemistry though.
Norris is also good as the kindly veteran detective on the verge of retiring, who is obsessed with his teeth, and he provides most of the film’s funny moments. Norris has a folksy charm, reminiscent of Andy Griffith’s wily old lawyer Matlock or Buddy Ebsen’s avuncular Barnaby Jones.
However, Looking For Grace is tonally awkward as it moves unevenly between melodrama, quirky comedy and much darker and downbeat territory.