GETTING GRACE (2018) Movie Review

Getting Grace Movie Review

For many people, Daniel Roebuck is one of those actors whose face you know but whose name you may not recall. With over 200 acting credits and few leading roles, it comes as no surprise that you know him even if you don’t know you know him. If you know his name, it is probably from one of the many horror or science fiction projects he was in (“Final Destination”, “Lost”, “Halloween”, etc) or from his promotion of Don Post masks. This last one is how I had the pleasure of first meeting Roebuck and finally connecting the face to a name.

For a man who has made so many appearances in the so-called “genre” films, you might expect him to write and direct films about demons and devils. But instead you get just about the exact opposite – “Getting Grace” (2017) is a story that purports to be about faith and inspiration, with no ghouls or buckets of blood to be found. Although Roebuck has been responsible for numerous monster and mask documentaries, this is (to my knowledge) his first time writing and directing a feature film. Appropriately enough, he shot his baby in the place of his birth: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Plot: Grace (newcomer Madelyn Dundon), a teenage girl dying of cancer, drops by a funeral home unexpectedly to find out what will happen to her after she dies. This chance encounter ends up teaching the awkward funeral director, Bill Jankowski (Roebuck), how to celebrate life.

The film kicks off with a humorous voiceover, poking fun at the idea of overly-blunt religious or spiritual messaging. This really sets the tone – a story that embraces life, and even manages to put the “fun” in funeral. The religious characters (such as an Episcopalian minister) are an important part of Grace’s journey, but never come off as preachy or pushy. In fact, some of the language (e.g. “bimbo chaser”) and situations are definitely PG rather than 100% saintly. If this is a “faith-based” film, it’s the kind that I can get behind!

The aforementioned minister is played by Duane Whitaker, who is just as much one of those character actors you know as Roebuck is. You may recognize him from “Pulp Fiction” or “Halloween II” (which also had Roebuck). If you’re a devotee of Mystery Science Theater, though, you might know him best from the terribly wonderful film “Hobgoblins”.

They are joined by Dana Ashbrook, one of the all-time great, underutilized actors, who appears as a poor man’s Uri Geller. And that is not giving the breadth of Ashbrook’s character enough credit. Though when he is first introduced, he comes off as a spoon-bending charlatan, we soon find he is not that shallow. Quite possibly, his character is the most human and multifaceted. He is hard to pigeonhole and therefore becomes the one to watch.

Madelyn Dundon is a very strong lead. Perhaps she has a background on the stage, but his is her first time on screen. But you would never know it. Like Atlas, she has the entire picture on her shoulders, and not once will you find her shrugging. Unfortunately, she is handicapped by the fumbling of some of her supporting cast, including the actress who plays her mother, the doctor and the psychiatrist. Their delivery is awkward and stunted, more akin to a soap opera. This is a shame because it knocks down what would otherwise be a top-notch film all around.

One might also say the music is a bit odd. While not bad in itself, it seems to be used to less than ideal effect. Moments that could be emotional and really come off as hard-hitting are paired with light music rather than the motifs one would expect. This was perhaps a conscious attempt at keeping the tone less serious, but something seems off… like mixing stripes and plaid. One wonders about the intent in these moments.

All things considered, however, “Getting Grace” is a charming film with a positive message, and one of those rare movies today that the whole family can watch together without any uncomfortable moments. Though not “Oscar worthy” or destined to be a cult classic, it is a triumph in its own way, and Roebuck ought to be proud of what he has achieved here. Exploring death without getting too depressing, and questioning the meaning of life without getting too heavy, it is certainly one of a kind.

One last thought: The casting of Buster Roebuck as a young Bill was inspired. The family resemblance is striking and nobody could have done it better.

Distributed by Hannover House, “Getting Grace” opens in select theaters on Friday, March 23.

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