Looking for Grace (Published first by Grapeshot)
Like an unhinged love-child of Gone Girl and Puberty Blues, Looking for Grace delivers a slow-burn emotional punch that, while perhaps prosaic on the surface, hints at worlds below the facades of its familiar, everyday characters. The film starts with a gorgeously shot sequence featuring Grace (Odessa Young) and her friend, Sappho (Kenya Young) , alternating between the boredom and thrill of a long-distance bus ride through the West Australian outback. Soon enough, the handsome but sleazy Jamie (Harry Richardson) boards the bus, immediately setting his eyes on Grace. Within the next set of scenes, all centred on Grace, we come to know each of these characters, despite an almost total lack of dialogue. What director Sophie Brooks has is a fine command of subtlety, demonstrating Grace’s endearing mix of teen awkwardness and recklessness, Sappho’s jealous priggishness, and the inexperienced seduction of Jamie through a more-or-less anal adherence to the rule of ‘Show, Don’t Tell.’ ‘Behind every smile, there’s a story,’ says the tagline, but such is the attention to detail that there is the sense that so does every pause, involuntary touch, and awkward giggle.
Once we are shown what happened to our teen runaway protagonist, the story’s quirky structure unfolds: We are sent back in time and into the perspective of Jamie’s mother, Denise, who discovers a note: ‘Sorry, Mum.’ Then, it is revealed that Jamie has stolen a small, secret fortune hidden in her father’s safe. The film follows a number of character’s perspectives, each with their unique tone. While, at first glance, Looking For Grace may seem to be a bog-standard checklist of Australian indie yawn-fest cliches with a neat post-modern spin, being a bleak, ‘arty,’ film about family relationships featuring shots of a waifish, lost protagonist wandering silhouetted in a majestic outback, the film transcends its trappings with the subtle insights we gain as we are shown the lives of people connected to Grace.
The most striking thing is the lack of emotion around Grace’s escape: Small talk is exchanged about whether her disappearance is occasion to bring out the good china, a tactless receptionist brightly lists a litany of horrible fates which may have befallen the girl to her mother, and Grace’s gormless father wonders aloud why the note did not include his name. While these scenes individually come across as a series of lightly comedic and frustratingly awkward vignettes, they, along with the backdrop of horrifically staid and sterile rendition of suburban Australia, amount to a dark satire of modern suburban blandness. No wonder, we think, by the end, Grace would choose the earthy emptiness of the wilderness over that of the kind filled with the genteel chaise lounges and dull-eyed family portraits of her home.
The title, while appearing to be a cute pun, may refer to the hole left by the protagonist in the wake of her disappearance: Adult life is empty, dreary, and lacking meaning, but the enthusiasm and rebellious tendencies of Grace are a kind of antidote to this way out of parochial, middle class life: If Grace does return, will she be able to maintain her vim, or will she be consumed into the bourgeiose lifestyle, doing things like having snappy, frustrating conversations with couch cleaners as her Mum does, or have an affair, as her father is revealed to be doing. Like so much about the film, these questions are left unanswered. There’s a sense that we have just touched the surface of the film, that we are shown just the edge of something much bigger. This is at once tantalising and irritating: For instance, Sappho is never given a part featuring her perspective, which is a pain because I’ll never know if her jealousy over Grace is just the product of a friendly bond, or she is much more like her namesake than appearances would suggest.
It’s not as if the boredom of suburban existence has been untouched by cinema, but Brooks makes nher work stand out by showing monotony with compassion rather than contempt. By the flooring and brutal ending, I wanted to know more of these characters, and, because of the detail, had three realisations about them just in the time it took me to write this review. However, it has to be said: Grace has much more in common with an Anton Chekhov short story than an ction blockbuster. At times I was yearning for the film to make something, anything, explicit, and, particularly within the middle of the film, felt myself beginning to be bored. However, the film does ultimately deliver on the ambition its structure promises, and I am keen for my next viewing.