September 13, 1996
If you add Carly Simon's career to Carole King's and add a dash of "A
Star is Born", you will get "Grace of My Heart". Carly came
from the Simon & Schuster book fortune just as our heroine, Edna Buxton,
came from Pennsylvania's Main Line. And Carole King wrote hit after hit
for groups in the sixties while hoping to someday sing herself, just like
Edna. And Illeana Douglas has just enough of the ugly-duckling-into-a-swan
beauty to make us believe that she could be unsure of herself - so unsure
that she lets a record producer (John Turturro) change her name to Denise
Waverly, put her in a cramped office with an upright piano in the famous
Brill Building, and expect her to produce hit after hit for him. He's not
a bad guy but keeps her busy enough to lose sight of her dream. So do Eric
Stoltz, Bruce Davison and Matt Dillon. But it is her relationship with
competing songwriter Cheryl Steed (Patsy Kensit) that is the most rewarding.
The music itself was unimpressive with the exception of Burt Bacharach
and Elvis Costello's "God give me Strength", which is a little
strange since the music is supposed to be central. Lesley Gore's "My
Secret Love" is given a new twist, but cutting most of the songs would
have been merciful.
As the film critics were leaving the theater, one young man commented that
for such a strong female lead, Edna/Denise was awfully passive. Having
lived through those decades, the female critics were quick to defend her.
"You don't know what it was like back then," Alice Reece commented,
"She was as strong a person as a woman could be then." Anyone
know the words to "You've come a long way baby"?
Illeana Douglas has a lot to live up to since her grandfather was the screen
legend Melvyn Douglas, not to mention that she has been dating director
Martin Scorsese. But she is up to the task and carries "Grace"
without overt sentimentality. The director and author of "Grace"
is indie heroine Allison Anders. Able to give a unique working-class perspective
with strong female characters, her most notable creations have been "Gas
Food Lodging" and "Mi Vida Loca". "Grace of My Heart"
may not be her best work but it is certainly entertaining for anyone who
still has the "Tapestry" album.
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