Sony // 1992 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // January 11th, 2005
The shortest distance between two hearts is a road that leads straight back home.
John Mellencamp (in his major motion picture debut) plays Bud Parks, a successful musician who leaves Los Angeles with his wife, Alice (Mariel Hemingway, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace), and their young daughter to visit Bud's hometown in rural Indiana (coincidentally, the state where Mellencamp hails from). Bud thinks that he's heading home for a quick, harmless visit but he couldn't be more wrong -- back at his old stomping grounds, Bud begins to backslide into his rebellious youth. Bud begins an affair with his ex-girlfriend, P.J. (Kay Lenz, House), who is married to Bud's brother and sleeping with his abusive, sexually aggressive father Speck (Claude Akins, The Lonely Man). Days turn into weeks, and a neglected Alice, suspecting the affair, decides to head back to Los Angeles and leave Bud to deal with his dysfunctional family. This results in a shocking climax that will push Bud to the edge of life and death in an attempt to unravel his reason for Falling from Grace.
Singer. Songwriter. Activist. Husband. Father.
Fans of "Mr. Cherry Bomb" got a brief glance into what could have been an alternate route for the rock singer with Falling from Grace, Mellencamp's directorial debut (and, as of this writing, his only film). Mellencamp not only directed the film, written by Larry McMurtry (Terms of Endearment), but also stars as Bud Parks, the famous country/rock singer not unlike the real John Mellencamp. The film is filled with parables about the dangers of rekindling old flames, digging into unhealed wounds, and finding out that sometimes the road home only leads to disaster.
I'd like to say that I enjoyed Falling from Grace, but I didn't. I don't think that it's a particularly bad movie. In fact, I think Mellencamp is a very competent director (unlike many filmmakers given $50 million dollar budgets) and has a natural screen presence. I just never got wrapped up in the movie -- maybe it's the script, maybe it's the pacing, or maybe it's just me.
Mellencamp's film moves slowly, which may be what he intended considering the subject matter. I've spent much time in rural southern Indiana and there were moments when I was sure time actually stood still. That's the feeling I also got during Falling from Grace. The film has a moral center that is often very unstable -- we're supposed to like Bud Parks, but it's hard when he's cheating on and neglecting his wife. Even worse, he's cheating on his wife with a woman who is married to his brother and sleeping with his father (there's enough material here to make up three days' worth of Jerry Springer shows). Thus, the only real likable person in the film is Alice, if only because she's a victim of everyone's hedonistic lifestyle.
Falling from Grace has decent acting, especially by Mellencamp and Kay Lenz as his mistress (of sorts). An imposing Claude Akins almost steals the show as the vicious Speck, and character actor Dub Taylor (Back To The Future Part III) pops up in an amusing cameo as Bud's cantankerous grandfather. The screenplay by Larry McMurtry (best known for western novels, like Lonesome Dove) is competent, if nothing overly original -- there have been many, many, many movies made about successes that return home only to find trouble with their dysfunctional family. This one is no exception.
If you're a big Mellencamp fan, or just really into movies about small town (pun intended) life, Falling from Grace may be your cup of moonshine. Otherwise, while it's got its merits, I can't really recommend it.
Falling from Grace is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I can't say this is the most exciting transfer on the planet -- while the colors and black levels are all bright and well rendered, there isn't a lot of excitement to this picture. A small amount of softness permeates the image, though overall it's never overly distracting to the viewing. Fans of the film will surely be happy to get it in a widescreen transfer, even one as unmemorable as this.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English. Much like the video transfer, this sound mix isn't anything to write home about. The mix is fairly front heavy throughout -- there are a few side sound effects, though that's mostly due to the country-tinged songs during the film. Overall the sound effects, music, and dialogue are all well heard without any hiss or distortion. No alternate soundtracks or subtitles are available on this disc.
Falling from Grace is far from being any kind of special edition DVD -- not a single feature can be found on this disc. What, little Johnny Cougar didn't want to record a commentary track for his only film?
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13