MRR Movie Review: Saving Grace B. Jones

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In a 1950s-era Missouri town the life of a couple is thrown into chaos when the husband's sister is released from the local asylum and comes to live with the family.
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Movie Review: "Saving Grace B. Jones"

-- Rating: R
Length: 115 minutes
Release date: December 14, 2012
Directed by: Connie Stevens
Genre: Drama / Thriller

Coming-of-age films usually begin with a not-so-ordinary summer and are portrayed as a snapshot from someone's childhood. At first, "Saving Grace B. Jones" appears to be another such film. This drama becomes a thriller very quickly, losing the down-home quality that the autobiographical tale promises in the beginning. Connie Stevens wrote, directed, and narrated this hybrid film, which turns out to be more than it seems.

Carrie (Rylee Fansler) is the center of the film and is a portrayal of director Stevens as a young adolescent. That fateful summer begins with a murder. Carrie and her single father live in Brooklyn, New York, in 1951. There, she becomes witness to a horrific murder. Out of options, Carrie's dad sends her to Boonville, Missouri for rest and relaxation in a small-town atmosphere. He places her in the care of his friends Landy (Michael Biehn) and Bea (Penelope Ann Miller), a married couple who also have a daughter. Carrie prepares herself for a boring summer, but it doesn't stay boring for long. After nearly twenty years of trying, Landy has finally won the release of his sister from an asylum for the mentally ill.

Grace (Tatum O'Neal), returns to town over the objections of the keeper of the sadistic asylum (played by Piper Laurie) and a Boonville preacher. They seem to think the woman is dangerous, but her brother believes otherwise. He welcomes her home around the same time that Carrie is left to settle in for the summer. Such a grouping of people would make a very dramatic story, but Stevens isn't finished with the audience yet.

Grace is awkward and behaves strangely. However, no one blames her for the way she acts. After all, she spent much of the previous two decades in a mental hospital. She freezes at familiar faces and upsets easily. Soon, it becomes apparent that Grace isn't completely over her illness. Landy doesn't see it, but his wife does, and their disagreement sends their marriage into a tailspin. Carrie views the woman with intrigue and fear. Grace is unstable and has nothing to help her with whatever demons she is fighting.

Grace's inner demons are released just as everyone else in town is battling a horrendous flood that is wreaking havoc on the entire town. The violent water unhinges something in Grace, causing her to become violent and unpredictable. The family has to fight the rushing water and Grace, both disasters that threaten their safety and lives. At the same time, they must try to save Grace, if that is even possible.

"Saving Grace B. Jones" is a portrait of a complex family for whom love is not enough to hold all the broken pieces together. Interestingly, this is an autobiographical telling of a summer in the life of actress and director Connie Stevens. The film is also a debut for Stevens as a director. She takes charge of the story, from the narration at the beginning of the film to the sights and sounds that come directly from her memories as a ten-year-old. Stevens begins by saying the events are so bizarre that no one will believe they are true. The audience will be able to sympathize, especially Grace's screaming rage turns the drama into a thriller. Tatum O'Neal embraces the role of a damaged and misunderstood soul who is reacting to the stressful events surrounding the flood in the only manner that she knows. O'Neal amps up the thrills as the water covers the town.

Fansler plays an innocent-looking girl with the strength needed to get through the horrors that the ill-fated summer brings. Her point-of-view brings a special perspective to the film, allowing audiences to see pieces of this thrilling tale in a way that only a child can. Her performance will leave audiences wondering how the real Stevens made it out of the summer of 1951 with her sanity intact.

"Saving Grace B. Jones" is actually a coming-of-age piece that lays out the details of a summer that Stevens never forgot. She gives audiences the full benefit of her memories through the talented actors and powerful cinematic techniques. Audiences should prepare for a wild, dramatic 115-minute ride.

Rating: 1 out of 5