Looking for Grace

LOOKING FOR GRACE. Starring: Odessa Young, Raddha Mitchell, Richard Roxburgh, Kenya Pearson,Terry Norris, and Myles Pollard. Directed by Sue Brooks. Rated M (Mature themes and Coarse language). 101 min.

This Australian drama tells the story of an unsettled teenager, who goes missing. Her parents don't understand why she has gone, and they hire an ageing, private ex-investigator to help find her. The movie was selected for screening at the 2015 Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals.

The teenager of the film's title is 16-yr. old Grace (Odessa Young), who steals a large sum of money from her parents, Denise (Raddha Mitchell) and Dan (Ricard Roxburgh), to run away to see her favourite rock-band with her friend, Sappho (Kenya Pearson). Grace is misunderstood by both her parents, and is struggling to prove her independence. She departs after leaving a simple note on the kitchen-bench at home that says "Sorry, Mum".

Grace and Sappho take a bus from Perth to the outback. On board, Grace meets a man she is attracted to romantically, but he steals her money after she spends a night with him at a motel. Pursuing Grace, Denise and Dan reveal hidden aspects of their relationship. A disillusioned Grace is found by her parents, who finally reach her in their family car. Quite separately, Bruce (Myles Pollard) travels with his young son in a huge yellow truck along the outback roads. Tom (Terry Norris), the private investigator hired by Dan and Denise, tracks Grace with them.

The film is organised in terms of five separate stories (Grace's story, Bruce's Story, Tom's Story, Denise's Story, and Dan's). All of the stories interconnect in some fashion, and they probe humanely, and intimately the characters who are depicted. Each story has particular surprises and character-revelations. For example, Bruce appears again at the end of the film to give the movie a surprise twist, and we learn about Dan's and Denise's past affairs as the film unravels the complexities of their relationship. Tom has a conflicted relationship to his own wife, and his feelings help to reinforce the film's underlying emotional themes. Each character in the film has an unsettled relationship to his or her partner that needs resolution for happiness to be found.

The film is both comic and dramatic, and throws moments of tragedy and scenic appeal into the mix. Its comic aspects are created to good effect by Grace's eccentric parents, who have a nervy, anxious relationship to each other. The dramatic coherence of it all rests largely on the film's attempt to draw connections among the five stories. The style of the plot-narrative and Sue Brook's direction is an intriguing one, because it allows the viewer to revisit key scenes in new and interesting ways, but it carries the risk that the viewer never gets to know in detail the separate characters who are involved. The full meaning of how the personalities of the characters have changed is intricately tied up with the plot's various twists and turns.

The movie is more about what is unsaid than spoken, and the film's sparse dialogue provides subtle, meaningful clues to what is unfolding. The movie intentionally depicts its characters idiosyncratically. Dan's behaviour conflicts incongruously with the nature of his dependence on Denise. Actions, rather than words, reveal the plot, and the movie is highly dependent on the situations it creates. Emotionally loaded scenes, that look almost staged, provide great power to the film, and moments of pathos, truth and compassion make the film a moving experience.

The movie is very impressive photographically. The film explores outback Western Australia in stirring fashion and its framed shots of regional WA and its roads are dramatic. The wheat belts of Western Australia look stunning, and the film depicts outback-Australia beautifully.

This is a highly original movie that is unmistakably Australian in character. It sharply communicates definite feelings of place and relationship-complexity. It is novel in its direction, and it has an unusual plot-development style that maintains the tension of the movie very effectively by providing hints and suggestions about what is really happening. When Grace finally asks her father "What now?", even the viewer does not know, but the stage is set for some intriguing guess-work. This is a most unusual film that is directed, acted, and photographed with great emotional impact.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Palace Films

Released January 26th., 2016

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