Universal // 1996 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dean Roddey (Retired) // October 15th, 1999
For years her songs brought fame to other people. Then she found her own voice.
In my humble opinion, this is one of the most underappreciated films out there. Nothing blows up, so it's not a system showoff disc by any means. It's just the opposite in fact, a great human story with a great cast told in a very organic and beautiful way.
Grace of My Heart chronicles the evolution of a young white girl in the '50s who casts off her heiress roots and becomes, through much personal tragedy and two decades of struggle, one of the great singer/songwriters of her day (and taking on the stage name, Denise Waverly.) The story is very neatly wrapped around the real stories of those times, and many of the characters are loosely to closely based on real characters in the contemporary pop/rock music scenes. Being a fan of rock music and the history thereof, I found this to be a very interesting way to approach the story, giving it a feeling of realism that would have otherwise been missing.
The music is all original and written in most cases by people who wrote the original songs of the eras in question (e.g. Burt Bacharach, Iggy Pop, et cetera...) in conjunction with some of the great songwriters of the current day, such as Elvis Costello. So the movie does not become a "greatest hits of the..." cliché, which would have made it much less interesting. Nor, since real songwriters of the era were used, do the songs come out sounding like they were made up for a movie on commission. They all stand well on their own feet as songs and give the film a lot of emotional depth.
The cast is also pretty stellar in my opinion, including Illeana Douglas as Denise Waverly (Lanski, GoodFellas, To Die For), Matt Dillon (There's Something About Mary, Beautiful Girls), Eric Stoltz (Passion of Ayn Rand, Keys To Tulsa, Pulp Fiction, et al), and John Turturro (The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink, Rounders, Sugar Time, Quiz Show, et al) and many more. Because it is a multi-generational movie with a large cast, we get to see people grow, change, disappear or die in the course of natural events. With this deep a cast, the filmmakers don't have to keep everyone around all the time in order to get their money's worth. People come and go from the main character's life as they would in real life, giving the whole thing a very organic and lifelike feel.
In the extras area there is a very extensive "making of" featurette and a very good commentary track by director Allison Anders. Martin Scorsese is the executive producer and was evidentially quite involved in the making of the film, in some cases taking on what would normally be thought of as second unit director chores, according to the featurette.
I can't really fault this film in any significant way. I'm sure I'm biased to some degree, but I've watched it about four times and I loved it every time. Its a little long, since it covers a lot of ground, so you need to be in the mood for a real emotional ride. But, if you are, it will repay you well.
The video quality of the 1.85 anamorphic image is at that level where it just presents the material without attracting attention to itself or distracting the viewer, but its not ultra reference quality. The surrounds are not used a lot, since its not an action film. However, the music being performed by the characters does make nice, subtle use of them to provide a deep and enveloping musical sound field.
So, you caught me. I'm a guy who likes "chick flicks." But I think that this film goes beyond that kind of stereotype and really delivers a story of deep humanity and life affirmation that everyone can enjoy. Well, maybe not the tractor-pull crowd but almost everyone. It has great original music, a deep cast, a terrific story, and a lot of heart. Ladies, if he doesn't want to watch it with you, wait for the next tractor pull and watch it yourself!
This one is not only not guilty, but gets a Dean's Special Achievers Award. There isn't any monetary prize or anything. Well, actually they pay me, but still it deserves one!
Review content copyright © 1999 Dean Roddey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Notes
* Talent Bios
* Film Highlights
* Theatrical Trailer
* Web Link
* Audio Commentary
* Screen Saver
* PC DVD-ROM Interface