If this were a Karnak sketch, Judge Lacey Worrell would presume the question was "What did George Burns order at restaurants?"
A grandmother in denial. A mother on a downward spiral. Now, it's up to 16-year-old Gracie to keep the children together.
Gracie (Kristin Bell, Veronica Mars) has spent much of her life caring for her four half-siblings and her mother, Rowena (Anne Heche, Six Days, Seven Nights), who is childlike, irresponsible, and addicted to drugs. She is also often abusive to everyone around her, both in her actions and her language. Gracie's prim, sickly grandmother (Diane Ladd, Christmas Vacation) often takes the family in, but inadvertently enables Rowena's self-destructive behavior. Rowena's life is a string of loser boyfriends, late night parties, and week-long disappearances that leave her children hungry and frightened. Gracie is the one who reads the children stories and comforts them, all while fending off the advances of Rowena's boyfriends and suffering the occasional black eye administered by Rowena. Gracie's only sister is headed toward the kind of life Rowena has made, and Gracie fears for her brothers' futures.
When Social Services becomes involved in the family's situation and threatens to split them into various foster homes, Gracie steps up to the challenge of raising her siblings on her own. She has to balance these responsibilities with college and scholarship applications, and a budding romance with a fellow student, Tommy (Shedrack Anderson III, Fat Albert). Complicating the situation is Rowena's tendency to pop back in to the children's lives unexpectedly, as well as Rowena's grandmother's increasingly failing health. The drama culminates in a courtroom scene that will bring tears to even the most hardhearted viewers' eyes.
Kristin Bell ably carries this film from beginning to end; she brings a moving realism to Gracie. Take, for instance, the scene where she visits her boyfriend's parents for the first time. Gracie is awkward and intimidated by the fact that Tommy's parents are extremely wealthy, but at the same time she asks to take the leftovers home for her brothers. It is truly a terrific scene that shows Gracie as a fish out of water, but a bold one. Also stellar are the scenes of conflict between the three generations of women in the family. Rowena constantly fights with her own mother, then turns around and takes it out on Gracie; the pain is palpable.
There are some flaws in the story, but they are not enough to detract from the film's ultimately triumphant and positive resolution. No one bats an eye at the fact that Gracie's boyfriend is black; one would expect the impulsive Rowena to say something embarrassing or prejudiced about that fact, but she does not. When Gracie is awarded temporary custody of her siblings and must make a home for them, money does not appear to be an object; she apparently has saved thousands from her part-time job and the state picks up the rest of the tab. This is unrealistic—one would expect money to be the foremost problem for Gracie. Also unrealistic is the fact that she manages to juggle all these responsibilities and never once complains about it. Even the best mother feels overwhelmed at times, and questions her choices. Gracie is stoic throughout. There is no resentment, no longing for more freedom during her teenage years. That said, Gracie does not come across as saintly, just as a good kid trying to do the right thing.
The included featurette on the filming of the picture is a nice bonus. However, as was the case with another Lifetime DVD release, Sex and the Single Mom, the featurette is self-important and goes a little too far into the analysis of each character. Gracie's Choice is a very good movie, with the characters clearly outlined, so this featurette comes off as redundant. Overall, the audio and video are very good, with the exception of the final courtroom scene, where the colors of Heche's polka-dot dress blur and swim together in squiggly lines.
Anne Heche was deservedly nominated for an Emmy for her painfully accurate portrayal of the strung-out Rowena; this woman does "crazy" very well. Ladd and Bell are equally powerful in their roles. Another performance worth noting is Brian Atkins, as oldest son Ryan. Atkins accurately conveys anger and pent-up frustration in a very effective way.
Lifetime, with its "Channel for Women" tagline, is the punch line of many jokes, but the quality of its original movies is extremely good. Many of the movies shown on this channel, as well as its sister channel Lifetime Movie Network, were originally made for the major networks, so the accompanying cheese factor is inevitable. In its own programming, however, Lifetime does a stellar job of choosing the right stories and actors for a truly compelling hour-and-a-half of drama. Gracie's Choice is no exception.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Featurette: A Look at Gracie's Choice with Cast and Crew
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