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Grace of My Heart

Scorpion Releasing // R // November 17, 2020 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 10, 2020 | E-mail the Author

Much like its protagonist, writer/director Allison Anders' Grace of My Heart exists on the periphery of the mainstream. Released the same year as Tom Hanks' similarly-themed directorial debut That Thing You Do!, Grace is a more sprawling, more intimate story, blending bits of Carole King and real institutions like the Brill Building (a legendary hit factory in the 1960s) into the fictional story of Edna Buxton, a would-be steel heiress who dreams of becoming a singer/songwriter. The film isn't always successful, but it's always interesting, with Anders finding uniquely interesting elements and arcs to focus on in Edna's tumultuous journey through a rapidly-changing music industry.

Edna is played by Illeana Douglas, and she and Anders are the two pillars of the film. There is an unforced earnestness to the way she plays Edna, without ever crossing over into naivete. That earnestness allows her to make friends easily, and without seeming to think about it, she builds up a small network of trusted collaborators and friends who remain constants throughout the film's decade-long journey. Her most reliable friend is her boss, Joel Milner (John Turturro), who hears the track Edna has written and wants to perform, and offers to buy it, with the intent of giving it to another group. Edna is initially reluctant, but becomes one of Joel's star songwriters, churning out hits for The Luminaries, an all-girl group fronted by another one of Edna's friends, Doris (Jennifer Leigh Warren).

The bulk of the film is roughly divided into four key sections, each one involving Edna's love life. After being hired by Joel, Edna meets Howard Caszatt (Eric Stoltz), another writer on Joel's payroll. Although Edna is initially suspicious of Howard's motives, they quickly fall into both a personal and professional relationship that leads to the birth of a daughter, Luma. After she and Howard divorce, there is a brief fling with John Murray (Bruce Davison), a radio DJ who has an obvious affection for Edna. Jay Phillips (Matt Dillon) is next, and possibly most significant, who crosses paths with Edna after he's recommended as a producer for Edna's own single, a dream that Edna finally pursues again after Joel's tenure comes to an end. The fourth and final section, and perhaps the most important, is the one in which Edna is alone again, and has to face the challenges of the music industry on her own terms.

Anders' strength throughout the film is in interpersonal relationships. Although Edna is unquestionably the main character and the focus of the story, there is an inherent interest in seeing the way Anders crafts Edna's various partners and friends, creating romantic and platonic relationships between men and women that have an honest, unconventional quality to them. When Edna first confesses that she's pregnant (and that her pen name, "Denise Waverly," isn't her real name), Howard goes off on a little tangent about Grace Kelly, the kind of keenly-observed behavior that says volumes about the character, but which rarely makes it into a movie. Later, when the character of John Murray exits the movie, Anders creates a similar sort of character moment with no dialogue at all. The two most fascinating relationships in the film are both platonic: Edna's relationship with Joel, which is simultaneously prickly and loving in the way true friendships always are, and her unexpected friendship with Cheryl Steed (Patsy Kensit), another female writer on Joel's staff. When Edna and Cheryl first meet, they view each other as competition, but after working together developing a song for closeted singer Kelly Porter (Bridget Fonda), they quickly realize they make a great team. In their relationship, Anders again finds time for small moments, such as their realization that Kelly is a lesbian, or when Cheryl recommends an abortion doctor for Edna.

If there's a weakness to the film, it's in the third relationship with Jay, which simply feels like it doesn't have the room to breathe properly. Although Anders arguably has the same amount of screen time to develop Howard as she does Jay, the character never feels as fully fleshed-out as Howard or any of the other side characters in the film. Some of that may be Dillon, who is a talented performer but might be out of his depth, playing a surf-rock star desperate to make more serious, meaningful music, but it also just feels like Grace of My Heart was written as a bit more of an epic, and that another 15 minutes might've helped flesh out the romance, and the dramatic portion afterward.

The Blu-ray
Scorpion Releasing's new Blu-ray edition of Grace of My Heart retains the same key art used for the movie's theatrical advertising campaign and Universal's 1999 Collector's Edition DVD, which features Douglas, Dillon, Stoltz, and Turturro in the center label of a vinyl, with the center curl of a G clef serving as the O in the title's "of." The only change made here is to move the actors' credits out of the label to the top of the image (and yes, the text was corrected on this copy to spell Turturro's last name correctly). The one-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
I first saw Grace of My Heart a few years ago on a digital service, and my recollection is that both edge enhancement and noise reduction were major issues (as with many outdated Universal HD transfers). My feeling is that the 1.85:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer provided to Scorpion is not new, but it is different, opening with the Focus Features logo rather than the Universal and Gramercy logos that used to start the movie. The results are a mixed bag. To me, this looks like a master prepared in the DVD era, before edge enhancement or DNR were applied, leaving behind an image that is visibly dated, but at least not destroyed by further "enhancements." There is a limited amount of clarity and depth here, turning textures into a hit-or-miss prospect. Skin has faint nuance, but (outside of the mottled optical opening credits) still looks unconvincing in wide and medium shots, and there is little to no visible film grain. On the other hand, colors are vibrant and nicely saturated throughout, and there is minimal DVD-era white crush (although it still crops up from time to time -- look at the windows behind Edna and her mother in the opening scene).

Sound is also an imperfect experience. The packaging advertises 5.1 and 2.0 mixes with the DTS-HD Master Audio logo, but my player identifies the 5.1 mix as a lossy DTS-HD High Resolution mix rather than a full uncompressed track. This first stood out to me when firing up the disc and going with the 5.1 as the default mix, which is noticeably quiet. I ended up watching the film with the more prominent and perfectly vibrant DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track instead, which has no trouble handling the film's soundtrack or the dialogue. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.

The Extras
Scorpion Releasing has ported all of the extras from Universal's Collector's Edition DVD, including a audio commentary by Allison Anders, a making-of documentary (41:47), a series of deleted scenes (31:43). Not sure why Scorpion changed the name of the making-of featurette (on the DVD, it was just called "The Making of Grace of My Heart; here it's called "The Idea Becomes a Movie"), but it is complete.

On the special features menu, there's an option for "Scorpion Trailers," a block that includes King of the Mountain, The Greek Tycoon, The Tamarind Seed, Last Rites, The Last Seduction, and Who'll Stop the Rain. An original theatrical trailer for Grace of My Heart is also included.

Grace of My Heart stumbles a bit in the final 20 minutes, but Anders' take on the concept, and the skill of performers like Douglas and Turturro are enough to help buoy the movie even during the rockier bits. Scorpion Releasing's new Blu-ray is a similar sort of story, saddled with a dated but watchable presentation, as well as all of the extras from Universal's DVD. Recommended.

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