Looking for Grace Review
Teenaged Grace (Odessa Young) and her best friend Sappho (Kenya Pearson) skip town. Grace has also taken some money from her father Dan's (Richard Roxburgh) cupboard that shouldn't have been there in the first place. She has left a simple note: “Sorry Mum”. On the coach, Grace and Sappho meet Jamie (Harry Richardson) and mutual interest becomes flirting and eventually Jamie getting Grace into bed. In the morning, he's left the motel, leaving her with the bill unpaid. Meanwhile, Dan and Grace's mother Denise (Radha Mitchell) hire a private detective, Tom (Terry Norris) to find their daughter...
Sue Brooks is best known for her second feature film, Japanese Story, from 2003. That won eight Australian Film Institute Awards (now the AACTA Awards), including Best Film, Best Director for Brooks and Best Actress for Toni Collette. It remains the only one of Brooks's four features to have had a British cinema and disc release, though her third feature, the rather misfiring comedy Subdivision (2009), is available to stream in the UK as I write this. Looking for Grace is her first film as the writer as well as the director, and there are themes and specific events which remind you that the director of Japanese Story is at work. That may have something to do with the fact that Alison Tilson, the writer of the earlier film, is the script editor and a producer here.
Looking for Grace is a story that's not as simple as it might seem on the surface, and we have to fit the pieces together. The film is divided into five sections, the first, fourth and fifth being the longest. They overlap in time, and later sections fill in gaps and extend the story beyond the endings of earlier ones. First is “Grace's Story”, which ends with brief, fragmentary flashforwards. Next, is a short section centering on Bruce (Myles Pollard), a lorry driver who has his young son with him. This part is the shortest and has the least connection with the rest of the film, on the face of it. “Tom's Story” introduces us to that character, preparing to leave to investigate Grace's disappearance, briefly showing his wife Nell (Julia Blake, Norris's real-life wife), with Terry at this point more concerned about the state of his teeth and whether or not he's packed enough pairs of underpants for the trip. Then we see from the viewpoints of Grace's parents, first Denise and then Dan, both of whom have secrets from the other.
It's a measure of the strength of Brooks's writing and direction that none of this is confusing, and it all clicks into place by the end, with the fractures in this family's life laid bear and to some extent irreconcilable. The central characters are all well-rounded, and Brooks takes care to fill out the people we don't see much of: Bruce and his son, Sappho, Dan's work colleague Susie (Amanda Woodhams), others. She also has enough confidence in her material and her actors to let some scenes play out at length, such as a single-take nighttime conversation between Dan and Tom. Elizabeth Drake's score and Katie Milwright's cinematography are fine too.
Odessa Young has been acting since 2007, the year she turned nine, but before 2015 she had only appeared in short films and on television. Looking for Grace and The Daughter (both shown at the Venice Film Festival), were her first feature films. Looking for Grace was the first of the two in Australian cinemas (I saw it at the end of its run in Melbourne, in February 2016) but The Daughter had more attention, had a UK release, and won Young the AACTA Award for Best Actress. Deservedly so, but I'd suggest that her performance here is close to it, given that she's on screen less often than she is in The Daughter. Young has certainly not escaped notice, being more recently on British screens as one of the leads in Assassination Nation. There is an impressive cohort of young actors in Australia right now, and Young on this evidence is one of the best of them.
Looking for Grace is a quietly impressive film that's been somewhat overlooked. It hasn't as I write this had a British release of any kind, and as far as I can ascertain no single showings either.
Palace Films's DVD of Looking for Grace is PAL format and encoded for Region 4 only. The film has the advisory Australian M rating (for “mature themes and coarse language”) and would almost certainly gain a 12 if it were submitted to the BBFC.
Looking for Grace was shot digitally on the Arri Alexa, and the DVD transfer is in the correct ratio of 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced. As this film has been in the digital realm from start to finish – I don't know if any 35mm prints were struck, but I wouldn't be surprised if none were – you should expect this to look pristine and it does. With the proviso that I saw a 2K DCP at that Melbourne cinema and this is a standard-definition DVD, this looks much the same I as remember, which is as it should be.
The soundtrack is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround (2.0). I listened to the former and sampled the latter. The 2.0 track is mixed louder than the 5.1, but otherwise there's not much in it. The surrounds are used mainly for the music score and ambience, and the subwoofer noticeably kicks in for the throbbing bass of some music during “Bruce's Story”. English subtitles for the hard of hearing are available and seem accurate, though their rendering on this disc mangles the e-accent-grave of the word “jardinière”.
The main extra is a behind the scenes featurette (10:03). Interviewed are Sue Brooks, producers Lizzette Atkins and Sue Taylor, Odessa Young, Radha Mitchell, Richard Roxburgh, Harry Richardson and Katie Milwright, who goes into the cinematography of this film in more technical detail than you'd usually find in a piece like this. Also on the disc are the trailer for Looking for Grace (2:07) and trailers for other Palace releases: The Bélier Family, Far From Men, Still Life and Leviathan.