Edgy Coming of Age
Mel Odom | Moore, OK USA | 10/30/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Nearing Grace is old school storytelling with the fresh, caustic edge of today's viewpoint. The movie is set in the 1970s, though it doesn't go out of its way to nail down that time period. It's only through observation of the material (like Henry's old Thing car and period-piece costuming and pot being the drug of choice for teens) and the absence of today's teens accouterments (like cell phones and video games) that I noticed the time difference at all. (In fact, it was weird seeing the main character get a hand-delivered letter instead of a text email.)
Gregory Smith stars as Henry Nearing, a teenager in his final year of high school who's just lost his mother. The emotional turmoil over this loss is in nearly every frame of the movie, and it's effective. The opening montage sets up the loss and effectively brings the reader into the story.
The loss of his mother is also handled really well, not overbearing and not treated too trivially. Her death affects Henry, his father Shep (David Morse), and older brother Blair (David Moscow). Blair runs off to become a dope-smoking hippie type that wallows just a little too deeply in finding himself. Shep quits his teaching job, grows his hair longer, and rides a Harley through town at all hours of the night. Strangely enough, a lot of people's lives end up being somewhere off-kilter like this. Maybe a lot of people would feel this behavior was over-the-top melodrama, but I grew up in places where this was considered fairly normal.
In the meantime, Henry's crush on local teen heartthrob, Grace (Jordana Brewster), blossoms and goes out of control. She's all he can think about - even after he sees her with her current boyfriend. Henry's best friend Myrna (Ashley Johnson) wants to move their friendship to a physical level, and she's the most open and honest person Henry knows. Still, he doesn't want to jinx his chance at Grace and he doesn't want to endanger his friendship with Myrna. I felt like grabbing Henry up by the scruff of the neck and shaking him because he was just so infuriatingly dense about the whole thing.
Very aware of the fact that Henry is infatuated with her, Grace at first does everything she can to get him into trouble with her boyfriend. I really resented her character at this point. The part was played to the hilt, and Jordana Brewster looks amazing.
The movie may seem longer than its 105 minutes, but it keeps grinding away at the emotional context. Everyone watching the film is going to remember high school years and what they were like.
One of the best relationships in the movie is the one between Henry and his father. David Morse delivered a solid role and played the part of caring father and absentee parent wrapped up in his own grief very well.
Myrna, the best friend, is as hot and daring as she is doing best friend stuff. She tempts Henry sexually and makes fun of him because of his compulsive need for Grace, but she never steps away from him completely no matter how fed up she is of his behavior and shortsightedness.
Director Rick Rosenthal has been involved with the movie business for years and in a number of levels. While directing Bad Boys, he helped make Sean Penn a household name. He got his start directing with Halloween II and later returned to that franchise with Halloween Resurrection. He's directed several television episodes, including Law & Order, Smallville, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Nearing Grace isn't an easy watch. There are too many scenes in it, as well as characters, that remind me of times and things that I was involved with. I suspect a lot of other viewers will enjoy and cringe at the same experiences. It's as much a walk down memory-lane for the older viewers as it is real-life experience for the younger viewers. The fact that it's pseudo-realistic in so many ways also extends the life of the film and tends to make it timeless.
The movie is based on the book of nearly the same name by Scott Sommer. It was published as Nearing's Grace in 1979. He died at the age of 42 after producing three more novels and a collection of short stories. He also wrote movies and television episodes.
The overall theme of the movie is about coming-of-age, but Rosenthal shows that arrival on several different levels. Henry deals with his fantasies and romances, separating the two, and finds a way to deal with his family. The movie is slower paced and gets to the ending at a leisurely tempo, but Rosenthal clearly knows what he wants to say and gets the job done admirably enough.