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Review: Looking for Grace

Ros Hull

When rebellious 16-year-old Grace takes off, her exasperated mum and dad enlist the help of a close- to-retirement detective, and begin the long drive from Perth out to the West Australian wheatbelt to try to find her…

Academically, in the study of film, there is something to think about here, and some aspects to admire.

The scenery – it showcases the stunning wheatbelt of Western Australia – our huge, open landscape is a key factor in both the story and the style of the film. It made me want to hire a big four-wheel drive (so I am high enough above the salt flats and can see forever) then just drive for days.

The cast – it introduces two young actors who have wonderful potential. Kenya Pearson, who plays Grace’s best friend Sappho, has eyes that tell whole stories and a natural way of portraying a shy teenager. Odessa Young (as Grace) has indefinable star quality. She is the sort of actor the camera loves, the sort that can often get away without actually learning to act because the camera eats them up. If she does hone her craft she could be a force to be reckoned with.

Looking for Grace experiments with taking real life at a disorganised, real life pace. This may gain it plaudits at film festivals but is not gripping cinema. Ordinary life is shown to be mostly inane until we are blindsided on a Tuesday morning. This does not make a dramatic story, not even a slice of life. It makes two hours where I laughed three times, jumped once, felt sad occasionally but ultimately unfulfilled.

It also experiments with the (not new) idea of retelling a story from different character’s perspectives so that what happens is only gradually revealed to the audience. Again, academically interesting, but really not a good fit with a meandering family drama like this. I have seen this retelling technique used well to reveal sleight of hand (Now You See Me) but here it just feels repetitive.

However, there is Richard Roxburgh. When you have presence, as he does, it is all in a day’s work to own the screen. Whether playing a reprehensible lawyer, a prime minister, a villain or Dracula himself he is at ease in the spotlight. What he does in this movie is much, much harder. He plays an ordinary bloke – dull, ineffectual and lacking in much decision-making ability. He has to draw our sympathy for a character who is not really present in his own life, who does not utter one memorable line nor perform one heroic deed. And he does.

He also has to act across from Radha Mitchell, usually so good in every role she takes on, here I felt she struggled to find a way to give her suburban mum any depth. She certainly lacked grace whilst looking for Grace. I have never heard flatter vowels. Really, there is more to speaking ‘Strayan than that.

Still, an actor can only act as a director tells them too, with the script they have to work with – and Sue Brooks (Japanese Story) wore both those hats so I am going to have to lay any issues I have with this film at her feet.

I kept thinking of Francois Truffaut, Jean Luc Godard and the Nouvelle Vague … but not in a good way. In À Bout De Soufflé the actors were told to keep blank faces, the audience would then invest the characters with whatever emotion they felt. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work here.

We have half a chance of divining something with the lead actors eventually but other, lesser characters do not get a chance to tell their story. I am still wondering why Sappho’s mum needed a chair whilst Grace’s stood. And why Denise was so worried about her driving alone.

However, Looking For Grace is the only Australian film to be selected In Competition in both Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals this year, so I may be missing the point entirely. I suggest, gentle reader, that you make up your own mind – don’t take my word for it.


We have five double passes to give away to use at any screening of Looking for Grace at Palace Electric, in cinema from Thursday 28 January.

To enter to win a double pass, simply email [email protected] with why you want to see the film.

Entries close 30/1/16 at 11:59pm. Passes must be collected in person from the HerCanberra offices in NewActon by COB Tuesday 2 February. 

The reviewer saw this film as a guest of Palace Electric however her opinions remain her own. 

Ros Hull

Ros saw Star Wars and immediately wanted to fly the Millenium Falcon. Unable to do that she became a Jill-of-all-trades as her army husband whirled her around the world – and back to Canberra 10 years ago. She has worked in public programs and museum education ever since. She gained an MA in writing whilst getting two daughters through high school - both are now at university and undeniably fabulous (according to her). She can worry as an Olympic sport so she sees lots of movies instead. More about the Author

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