Sunday, June 03, 2007
DVD Pick: Grace of My Heart
I got a request and let me put it right here: It doesn't have to be an Ava and C.I. piece. I know they're doing a lot already. But there was the series of DVD reviews of Jane Fonda's comedies in 2005 [Note: Some are linked to in this piece by Ava and C.I. -- the week we asked them to take on two critics and set TV aside.] and there was an article in 2006 where you all talked about movies that no one would guess you liked. I was hoping you might do pieces like that. I didn't even know about Barefoot in the Park until I read the review here.
-- e-mail from Roz
We watch a lot of movies. Especially the core six (and Kat if she's still up) because we usually put in a film after the edition is over. We'll watch as we fall out from exhaustion. We always talk about noting some of our favorites that maybe don't get the attention they deserve. So if Roz will remind us, we'll do that from time to time.
Allison Anders directed Grace of My Heart and it's probably one of our favorites films from the 1990s. The movie follows Denise Waverly's career as a songwriter in the Brill Building who longs to record her own songs and eventually, as the 70s rolls around, she does and ends up with a huge album. If it sounds like the Carole King story, there are similarities; however, there are also differences.
The film has a strong look throughout and the early scenes in NYC before Waverly attains success and the later ones have a different look with a completely different look when Waverly moves out to the West Coast.
Illena Douglas plays Denise and is amazing in the role. Sheltered and scared in the beginning, she slowly grows into her own skin. Eric Stoltz plays Denise's writing partner and first husband (think Gerry Goffin), Matt Dillon plays her second husband (think Brian Wilson only he dies in this movie) and, through it all, John Turturro plays a music publisher/producer (think Don Kirshner and Lou Adler rolled into one). In a smaller role, Patsy Kensit starts out as a song writing rival to Denise who ends up as a friend as they both face the same sexism. (Of their many scenes together, the one that may most stand out is an early wonderfully shot, acted and staged scene where they sit on a couch as far apart from one another as the couch will allow.) Jennifer Leigh Warren (as Doris) is in and out of the film but so strong that when she pops back up, you never question where she's been.
Denise's story is sheltered rich girl who tries too hard to please others but wins a contest and comes to NYC only to discover the contest was nothing more than an attempt for easy press and there's no demand for her or any other "girl singer." (We've already got one, she's told over and over.) But her song writing stands out and she ends up writing for a doo wop group and then hits for a girl group. Hooking up with her first husband, they begin writing more political songs (which is really more Weil and Mann than King and Goffin). That marriage falls apart and she ends up out on the West Coast where she meets Matt Dillon's Jay who's supposed to be Brian Wilson. Though he praises her talent, he really doesn't want her to work and Denise loses herself when she stops composing. Jay's a nut case who offs himself shortly around the time he loses the kids and Denise ends up on a commune. Coming out of that -- through some shock therapy via Turturro -- she finally records the album everyone always seemed to think she could but no one seemed overly concerned about her actually recording. (Even the 'supportive' Jay who liked her talent in the abstract but didn't enjoy anything that might take her away from him even for a minute.)
So there are several threads running through the movie, identity, art and feminism being just three. If the plot interests you, great. Go see the movie.
The performances are really strong and Bridget Fonda, in a very tiny part, is also worth noting. She plays girl singer Kelly Porter (if you need a modern reference, think Kelly Clarkson) with a squeaky clean image who is actually a closeted lesbian. Douglas and Kensit's characters write a song for her entitled "My Secret Love."
Songs? To be honest, that's the main reason we have it in the DVD player as often as we do. Make no mistake, this is an amazing movie. Anders is a brilliant director (Gas Food Lodging and Mi Vida Loca are two other Anders films) and she's written a fast moving screenplay that doesn't have any flab on it. But the DVD often gets played just because we want to hear the soundtrack.
Buy the soundtrack? Is it out of print again? If it is, that's never been the problem. The problem is the soundtrack sucks.
Ever buy one of those "inspired" by soundtracks? We think those are better than the soundtrack to Grace of My Heart. For instance, one of the strongest songs is "God Give Me Strength." In the film, Denise Waverly sings it. On the soundtrack? Elvis Costello. Costello co-wrote it with Burt Bacharach and his version is nice enough but it's not what's performed in the film. (It does appear over the closing credits and on Costello and Bacharach's Painted From Memory.) In the film, Kristen Vigard (who gained fame as Morgan on Guiding Light -- anyone disputing that, Vigard ended up with a People cover for that role) is Denise's singing voice and she does some skilled work. Costello does a nicer version (with a too polished arrangement) that can't touch the power and lightness Vigard brings to lines like:
I might as well
Wipe him from my memory
Fracture the spell
As he becomes my enemy
Maybe I was washed out
Like a lip print on his shirt
See, I'm only human
I want him to hurt
I want him
I want him to hurt
Our suggestion: when someone gets around to doing a deluxe DVD package of this extraordinary film, include a CD disc -- the actual (in full) film soundtrack. A great film deserves a great soundtrack and this one already has it -- they just never put it out on CD.