There is clearly a pun intended in the title. A state of grace is where an individual is enjoying God’s favour. None of the people in this film seem to be in this state and the implication is that they are looking for it in their own individual ways. But this reads more into the film than its performance justifies.
This movie is a mess right from the beginning.
The opening scenes show some stunning aerial photography of Western Australia. Yet, there is nothing in the film that suggests a close connection between the landscape and the characters or the plot of the film. Certainly, the film is part road film because Grace’s parents, Denise and Dan, played by Radha Mitchell and Richard Roxburgh, are looking for her somewhere on the road to a rock concert two days away from her home town of Perth. But there is no sense that the landscape makes any connection with the dilemmas that the characters are facing.
This is no Mystery Road where the beauty of the landscape is intertwined with a sense of threat and menace that permeates the film.
The final scene of the film is a long, tediously long in fact, shot of the sunset on the road that Dan and Grace are driving along as they return to Perth after Denise’s death.
Why the film should finish on this note is puzzling, if not downright confusing.
Similarly, the plot is a mess. It follows the same day in the life of the main characters. In some cases, the stories overlap. In others, the connections are more tenuous. There is no sense that the characters different stories provide any significant insights into each other.
In “Bruce’s story”, we have a truck driver and son driving a road-train through Western Australia. When he stops, he has a long conversation with his wife about a spider that is loose in the house. There is an absurdly disconnected but humorous tone to the conversation as there is to many of the conversations in the film. She is clearly frightened of the spider and expects him to do something about it despite the fact he is a thousand kilometres away. He assures her that the spider is probably more frightened of her than she is of it. But that doesn’t help.
But, there seems to be no point to including this exchange in the film. Bruce is not connected to the plot in any way at this stage of the film . Later, his truck hits and kills Denise. But this whole incident seems so gratuitous. The film has been shot through with a wry, offbeat humour, much of it connected to Dan’s inept attempt to have an affair with Sandra, played by Tasma Walton. And Denise’s attitude towards her home, her marriage and her past has absurd craziness to it.
And then suddenly out of the blue, Whack! Denise is hit by Bruce’s road train. Now I don’t know how many people have been standing by the side of a Western Australian road when a road train comes through. They make a lot of noise so I can’t understand how she didn’t hear it. A minor point, but irritating.
Now, suddenly you start to feel sorry for everybody because Denise has been run over. Up to that point, you haven’t felt sorry for anybody. Denise is a ditzy air head, Richard Roxburgh doesn’t quite seem to know how to play Dan who comes across alternately as a sex-obsessed manic-depressive or an inept bumbler. The reason the Grace has been able to rob his safe is that he allowed her to program the password. Grace is self-centred to the point of being isolated from all around her.
The accident at the end of the film changes the whole tone, the narrative and emotional arc if you like, of the film. And not for the better.
The other major problem with the film is the way in which the plot unravels through a series of parallel stories. The difficulty with this is that a number of the stories meet at the point where Dan and Denise chase Grace across a mud flat. We see this incident at least three times and it doesn’t seem to be much different each time we see it. Just boring.
There are small inconsistencies in the characters as well. After Dan and Denise find Grace and begin taking her back to Perth, there is a scene in a roadside cafe where Denise comes back from the toilet and sees Dan and Grace sitting laughing together as if sharing some private joke.
Up until now, he has been seriously pissed off with Grace, not so much for running away but for stealing a large amount of money, which he was hoarding for his affair with Sandra, from his safe.
There has been nothing in the film suggest any significant relationship between Dan and Grace and Denise is somewhat taken aback by it. We don’t know whether she surprised that Dan is even talking to his daughter at this point or whether Dan has had a relationship with Grace that Sandra hasn’t shared in all been aware of.
But these are subtleties that the film does not explore and leaving them hanging makes a film a much less than satisfactory experience.