'Grace' Grabs My Heart
Ileana Douglas, the goggle-eyed, curiously attractive, eternal character actress, gets her first starring role in Grace of My Heart, an era-spanning pseudo-biopic that loosely depicts the life and career of singer/songwriter Carole King. Douglas grabs onto the role of a society-girl-turned-songwriter with such passion and conviction that I now have a newly discovered admiration for her acting abilities.
Although the film spans only fifteen years, it covers three different and distinctive periods of music history and pop culture. From the doo-wop sounds of the late fifties to the beach tunes of the early sixties to the psychedelia of the seventies, Grace of My Heart glides seamlessly from era to era. Ileana's performance coupled with the stylish costume designs of Susan L. Bertram create a unique atmosphere that transports us on one woman's journey through the pain of failed marriages to eventual self-expression. With Grace of My Heart, director/writer Allison Anders skillfully wraps a story of female accomplishment in the skin of a Rock and Roll period piece.
Douglas is Edna Buxton, a circa 1958 heiress who wins a singing contest that awards her not only a recording contract but also the scorn of her high-society mother (Christina Pickles) who had hoped for more for her daughter. Edna's recording contract fails to pan out but she finds minor success writing songs for other performers, mostly girl groups.
Edna is eventually hired as a songwriter by the hard-working but kind-hearted Joel Millner (John Turturro), a Phil Spector look-a-like who teaches her that Doo-wop is big, and that the latest movement is to get away from "girl groups". He renames her Denise Waverly, forbids her from singing her own songs and encourages her to write only for boys.
After penning her first number one hit, Joel pairs Denise with Howard Caszatt (Eric Stoltz), an idealistic young writer with a penchant for controversial songs that get banned from the radio thereby nearly ruining the careers of all three. Denise falls in love with Howard, has his baby and eventually dumps him after learning of his extramarital affairs.
Finding herself alone and emotionally vulnerable, Denise falls in love with John (Bruce Davidson), a married disc jockey who refuses to leave his wife and later moves away. This once again leaves Denise with exposed emotions, but she triumphantly turns the experience into a string of hit love songs including "God Give Me Strength" (actually written by Elvis Costello and Bert Bacharach).
John Turturro steals nearly every scene he is in with his Elvis-like wigs and his compassionate but brutally honest mannerisms. One especially touching scene involves Joel rescuing Denise from a hippie commune to confess the dependence of his success upon her well-being.
The last third or so of the movie takes place in the late sixties and covers Denise's relationship with Jay Phillips (Matt Dillon), lead singer and neurotic composer for the Riptides, an obvious counter to the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. Jay's drug use and manic behavior force Denise to put her career on hold while she tries to prevent Jay from teetering over the edge of sanity.
Besides the luscious atmosphere generated by the lively soundtrack, part of the fun of watching Grace of My Heart comes from trying to match up real-life celebrities with their onscreen depiction. Director Allison Anders purposefully builds each character as a conglomeration of many individuals from American Rock and Roll history. Lesley Gore, The Everly Brothers, and Diana Ross are a few that I recognized as well as the aforementioned Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys, and Phil Spector.
(Released by Universal Studios and rated "R" for language, some sexuality and drug content.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.