VENICE 2015 – Looking for Grace (2015)


Everyone seems to be heading somewhere in the fifth feature from Australian director Sue Brooks, and no one ever arrives. In a series of interconnected stories centring on teenager Grace’s decision to abscond from home, a family confronts its own search for grace, both physical and spiritual. It’s all a bit of mess with odd shifts in tone and a redundant POV approach, but it packs a sharp eye for domestic detail and a nice line in rambling dialogue to keep the entertainment quotient high enough.

Countryside is the first thing to stand out. When you have the strikingly sparse landscape Australia comes with, you might as well use it. The film opens with Grace (Odessa Young) and her friend Sappho (Kenya Pearson) riding a coach out into the middle of nowhere. All around them, yellowy brown ground stretches without an end in sight, broken only by the occasional tree or patch of shrub. Grace, it emerges, has run away with her friend, after first stealing a massive amount of cash her father (Richard Roxburgh) had been storing in the family safe. The plot switches between Grace as she gets mixed up with a slick guy who charms his way close, and her parents who are hunting her down while dealing with their own problems.

It’s really these separate concerns that work the best. Her mother Denise (Radha Mitchell) seems bored with a never changing domestic life. All she has to do is argue with furniture cleaners and worry where her husband has wandered off to. Roxburgh has great fun with his role, mixing bluster and buffoonery to great effect. The disappearance of his daughter brings with it a whole ream of problems as that money was never meant to be out of his office. He’s also at something of a crisis in his personal life, as witnessed by a wonderfully incompetent seduction scene that descends literally into nausea.

Looking for Grace functions best when Brooks stands to one side and lets her characters interact. The arrival of the police creates the kind of messy chaos in their house rarely seen in films. She also adds in a semi-retired PI in Terry Norris’ Tom, more interested in the quality of his smile than anything else. Largely irrelevant though much of it proves to be, there’s a lot of fun to be had watching Roxburgh and Norris whiling away the hours together.

By splitting the focus amongst extra characters – there’s even a brief segment with a truck driver that bears little relevance until the end – something has to give. Brooks compromises the dramatic core, breaking up engagement with the fate of the family with these diversions. Sucking interest out of the search for grace, both capital g and lowercase, it’s a gimmick exposed as such when the narrative begins to drag under the weight of repetition. It’s hard to move between a young girl being seduced by an obviously seedy guy and an old man complaining about whitening toothpaste without suffering. Eventually, it appears the entire structure exists to throw in a cheap shock that gives an entirely undeserved resolution.

Looking for Grace ultimately flounders on this uncertain tone, dragging on into boredom. Stuck in the dramedy hinterland, Brooks never knows how bleak to go, wasting good work from her cast. She wins marks for effort, and certainly shows a flair for dialogue, but the delivery isn’t quite there.

Director: Sue Brooks
Writer: Sue Brooks
Stars: Jennieka Chattelle, Rhett Clarke, Korum Ellis
Runtime: 100 min
Country: Australia

Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

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