On DVD: Grace Is Gone - Worth a Look, But Skip the Extras

It's really a shame that the new DVD for the film Grace Is Gone features such a tepid, timid mix of bonus material, because the film itself could use a boost. Oh, sure, at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival it won the Audience Award and the award for Best Screenplay. And yes, it is a gentle, tender family drama the likes of which we don't see enough of these days. But it's so gentle and so tender that it runs out of steam before it reaches the end of its 84-minute runtime. I would have liked to see if there was a little more oomph to be squeezed from it, maybe in a commentary track by star John Cusack and/or writer-director James C. Strouse. But there's nothing like that on offer here.

The story is simple: Cusack is Stanley Phillips, father to two young daughters and husband to a soldier serving in Iraq ... whom he has just learned has been killed in a roadside bombing as the movie opens. He is devastated -- he's not a loquacious man to begin with, and now he has clammed up with grief so much so that he cannot bear to tell his daughters that their mother has died. The film is about his journey to the beginning of acceptance, which of course must start with finally telling the girls the news.

Cusack's performance is extraordinary, and unlike we've ever seen him before -- shorn of all the wonderful quirks that have always endeared him to us, he finds a kind of poignancy that we might not have expected to see from him. (Cusack has always been a king of snark, but there's not one whit of that here.) But the script doesn't carry him far enough -- though the movie is filled with all manner of well-observed touches, ultimately there's not enough there there.

So I was looking for that something else in the extras, yet there's not much there there, either. A brief making-of consisting mostly of snippets of interviews with Cusack and Strouse offers little we couldn't have gleaned from the film itself, and beyond that are two short pieces swiped from Pentagon propaganda: a glowing "profile" on TAPS, the military's Tragedy Assistance Program; and a story mislabeled "Inspiration for Grace Is Gone" about a female soldier who died while serving (though before the Iraq war even began), leaving a husband and children behind, that clearly did not inspire this film, though Cusack, upon hearing of this family after already at work on Grace, did turn to the husband for inspiration for his performance as Stanley.

Grace Is Gone is absolutely worth seeing for that performance, but not for much else, unfortunately.

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MaryAnn Johanson (email me)

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