Grace of My Heart (15)

Directed by Allison Anders
Starring Illeana Douglas, John Turturro, Matt Dillon, Eric Stoltz

This is a very enjoyable musical drama, that tells the story of singer/songwriter Denise Waverley(Douglas), a Carol King type character. We follow her through her early days as a crooner, her first career break as a songwriter with agent John Turturro, several ill fortuned romances, the hits, the misses, the tears, the heartbreaks!!
Alison Anders usually directs films firmly from the female viewpoint, and this is also the case here. Denise, our heroine, is the wronged or badly treated one always. However this doesn't mean the male characters are stereotypes although the they are less likeable in general. Turturro's character is appealing in a sleazy sort of way, and Denise's three romantic partners have their moments I suppose, although we the viewers are glad when each leaves the scene.
The richness of the characters is one of the best things about the film. Many of the characters were inspired by real life musicians of the 60s and 70s. We see angry pseudo-rebel Eric Stoltz, spaced out beach boy Matt Dillon, A trio of black girl singers, a cameo from Bridget Fonda as a girl-next-door ingenue who turns out to be a lesbian, and a surprisingly good Patsy Kensit as a British songwriter who eventually becomes one of Denise's best friends.
The film has been critically well received, but not terribly successful commercially. This is probably partly due to the unknown Illeana Douglas(producer Martin Scorsese's girlfriend), but she is actually very good indeed. She is a slightly odd looking lady, her face is too small for her big eyes, nose and mouth! She is so clearly the lynchpin, and sadly many film goers will not turn out for someone they've never heard of. The other factor is the subject matter. Some people won't find the idea of a drama/musical and a female songstress very appealing. Again this is a shame. The songs are wonderful. For the first time ever I want to buy a film soundtrack. Songs include compositions by Elvis Costello, Burt Bacharach, Joni Mitchell, Shaun Colvin etc. Douglas doesn't do her own singing, but acts the songs well, and the girl who does sing it has a good voice.
However, there are flaws in the film. The pacing is patchy. Sometimes we race through as Denise goes from exchanging looks with Matt Dillon, to being married and not terribly happy in a few minutes. Then we have to suffer Dillon's paranoia for far too long; this section drags. Of course, when covering a lengthy period of time, events must be condensed, but it was inconsistantly done, and upset the balance of the film. Another quibble is with the highly flawed men Denise falls for. Anyone can see Stoltz's character is a creep, Bruce Davidson's a wimp and Matt Dillon's a wierdo. Wake up Denise! And finally as a Joni Mitchell fan, I was upset that her song was only partially played. More from Joni please.
A few weeks a go I suffered the agonies of Evita(and my negative review has upset a few of my readers-do they have no regard for my pain!?) This film is much more like it. It is a style of music and a period in musical history I like, but with good performances, interesting characters and a cracking soundtrack this is one of the best musicals(although I don't know if it is classed as one), I have seen for a while. 8/10

February 1997

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